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Explaining the missing dementia link

Having type 2 diabetes roughly doubles the chance of a person developing dementia, but the exact reason behind this fact is still unknown.

“We know that both dementia and type 2 diabetes are associated with inflammation,” explains Geriatrician and Senior Research Fellow, Dr Chris Moran.

“It’s been well established that diabetes is associated with inflammation in many parts of the body, but in general the brain has not been examined as much.”

Dr Moran is currently leading a new research project at Peninsula Health, to examine whether type 2 diabetes is associated with neuro-inflammation and to explore whether that neuro-inflammation is associated with cognitive function.

“What we want to look at in humans, is whether diabetes is associated with inflammation in the brain, and is that linked with someone’s cognition?” he says.

“By looking at people earlier in life, we can see whether this process is happening in the brain much earlier, possibly decades before they go on to develop cognitive impairment or dementia.”

“Hopefully if we know that, and we know diabetes is associated with neuro-inflammation, that gives us a target to aim for – so we can work out what to do to reduce the risk of people with type 2 diabetes developing dementia, or ideally remove that risk completely.”

Dr Moran and the team are recruiting a unique participant group for the study from the Diabetes Outpatient Clinics at Frankston Hospital.

“We’re looking for people who have type 2 diabetes, but we’re looking to also recruit their partners because we want to try and control for things like lifestyle, diet and level of education,” says Chris.

“We are hoping to find participants who are similar in as many ways as possible and are only different in one thing – having diabetes.”

“The fewer differences there are between the participants, the more likely we are to isolate the signal of diabetes.”

Participants will complete basic questionnaires, a cognitive test, blood tests of inflammation and have brain scans to measure inflammation.

The study aims to recruit 30 couples to take part in the research over the next two years.

The Professorial Academic Unit is based in the Department of Medicine, Frankston Hospital. Its staff also hold conjoint appointments within the Peninsula Clinical School, Monash University.

Important research for the Frankston Mornington Peninsula community:

+ The Frankston Mornington Peninsula has a large proportion of people aged over 65 who are at an increased risk of developing dementia later in life

+ The area also has a large number of people who are overweight, obese, or have type 2 diabetes

This article was first published in the 2018 Research Report. Read the full edition online here