KU Researchers Studying Possible Link between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease

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A KU ADC study is testing the effects of a Type 2 diabetes treatment, dapagliflozin, on the brain’s energy levels, cognitive function and brain health in people with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Researchers at the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center (KU ADC) have designed and launched a study testing a possible link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. 

This single-site KU ADC study, funded by AstraZeneca, which produces dapagliflozin, tests the effects of a 12-week dosage on the brain’s energy levels, cognitive function and brain health in people with Alzheimer’s disease. The goal of the study is to determine if dapagliflozin improves the brain’s metabolism. More broadly, though, KU ADC researchers hypothesize that shifting the body’s metabolism will translate into positive effects on the brain.

Dapagliflozin is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for type 2 diabetes, but not for Alzheimer’s disease, and has not been tested as a drug therapy for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Research has uncovered a strong link between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies show a similarity between the body’s response to glucose in those with Alzheimer’s disease and the body’s use of insulin in those with type 2 diabetes.  

Dapagliflozin helps increase the body’s ability to break down and reduce blood glucose levels. The drug also has been shown to boost the cells producing energy in the mitochondria.

“This trial is testing if influencing the body’s metabolism influences the brain’s metabolism,” said Jeffrey M. Burns, M.D., M.S., co-director of the KU ADC and the Edward H. Hashinger Professor of Medicine in the Department of Neurology at the University of Kansas Medical Center.  The KU ADC is one of 32 National Institutes of Health-designated and funded Alzheimer’s Disease Centers in the nation.

As part of the study, researchers are using advanced imaging techniques to detect metabolic changes at the cellular level in the brain.

“If we see such changes, it proves the concept that shifting the body’s metabolism will shift the brain’s metabolism. That’s important because it gives us a different way to think about altering brain health,” Burns said. “We think we can target metabolism as a therapeutic strategy for influencing brain health and brain disease. That’s the big idea.”

Positive study findings would lead to more rigorous testing in a larger group to determine if the metabolic changes truly translate into real-world benefits. The results potentially could unearth promising strategies for improving the health of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

For more information and to inquire about eligibility for the study or other KU ADC clinical research trials, call 913-588-0555, extension 1, and visit the KU ADC website.