Alzheimer's as a Form of Diabetes

A rather fascinating entry on Alzheimer's research can be found in various media outlets today.

Researchers at Rhode Island Hospital and Brown Medical School have discovered that insulin and its receptors drop significantly in the brain during the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, and that levels decline progressively as the disease becomes more severe, leading to further evidence that Alzheimer's is a new type of diabetes. They also found that acetylcholine deficiency, a hallmark of the disease, is linked directly to the loss of insulin and insulin-like growth factor function in the brain.

"Insulin disappears early and dramatically in Alzheimer's disease. And many of the unexplained features of Alzheimer's, such as cell death and tangles in the brain, appear to be linked to abnormalities in insulin signaling. This demonstrates that the disease is most likely a neuroendocrine disorder, or another type of diabetes,"


We're able to show that insulin impairment happens early in the disease. We're able to show it's linked to major neurotransmitters responsible for cognition. We're able to show it's linked to poor energy metabolism, and it's linked to abnormalities that contribute to the tangles characteristic of advanced Alzheimer's disease. This work ties several concepts together, and demonstrates that Alzheimer's disease is quite possibly a Type 3 diabetes," de la Monte says.

Earlier this year, de la Monte and co-authors provided the first evidence that insulin and its related proteins are produced in the brain and that reduced levels of both are linked to the late stages of Alzheimer's. They surmised that Alzheimer's is a complex neuroendocrine disease that originates in the central nervous system, raising the possibility of a new type of diabetes.

So, is this cause or effect? Or both, in a mixed and more complex package of biochemical mechanisms? Sadly, I am not even remotely qualified to discuss whether or not this is an important breakthrough on the path to preventing and curing Alzheimer's. But in general, I think we can all agree that getting a better handle on the biochemical roots of Alzheimer's would be a good thing. It won't be too many years now before organs can be regrown and replaced in worst case medical scenarios ... but that isn't an option for the brain. If you're in the first half of your life today, it's progress towards preventions and cures for neurodegenerative conditions that should be occupying your long-term view.

Keep an eye on this branch of research; if verified, it may just confirm the best known ways to avoid or delay onset of Alzheimer's within the next few years. Even that is a big deal in this era of racing biotechnology and medical research - a decade of healthy delay will make a big difference in terms of quality and capability of healthcare you'll receive when you need it.

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The type of diabetes described here as associated with Alzheimer's Disease (coined "type 3 diabetes" by researchers) is not the same as type 2 diabetes, which affects approximately 18 million Americans. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by higher than normal levels of blood glucose (throughout the body) which result from malfunctions in the production or utilization of insulin made in the pancreas.

Posted by: Farell at November 29th, 2006 7:20 AM
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