Joslin Study Looks for Links between Insulin Resistance and Alzheimer's
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Joslin’s Gail Musen, Ph.D., is studying whether sophisticated brain imaging tools can detect early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease among people with insulin resistance.
Using today’s sophisticated brain imaging tools, scientists can search for ways to detect warning signs for Alzheimer’s disease. Gail Musen, Ph.D., is now studying whether such signs can be detected among people with insulin resistance, who are at higher risk for developing the grim neurodegenerative disease.
Dr. Musen, an assistant investigator in Joslin’s Clinical, Behavioral and Outcomes Research Section, recently received a four-year grant initially valued at $1.6 million from the National Institute of Aging for her investigation.
She explains that people developing Alzheimer’s may show unusual patterns in the brain’s “default network”, a set of areas of the brain that spring into higher gear when the brain is relatively quiet. Importantly, these brain changes can be detected when cognition is still entirely normal. Researchers can analyze this process with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which offers a way to measure brain activity by detecting the level of oxygenated blood in brain regions.
Musen and her colleagues will employ fMRI to examine people with various levels of insulin resistance, ranging from those with no insulin resistance to those with type 2 diabetes, both while they are mentally “at rest” and when performing memory tasks.
Additionally, the researchers will examine related changes in brain structure among people with impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes and they will confirm that cognitive function is still completely intact. (This is important to be sure that they are detecting changes before the onset of dementia.)
“This study offers us a really exciting chance over the long run,” says Musen. “It will help us begin to identify how insulin resistance increases risk for Alzheimer’s, and to identify people who are at risk so that we can try early interventions to decrease that risk.”