While many biophysicists work on very basic biological principals and subjects, the research does relate to our understanding of disease and contribute to cures and treatments down the road. In recognition that November is both National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and Diabetes Awareness Month, we asked BPS member Yifat Miller to share with us her research on the connection between these two diseases.
Why is your research important to those concerned about these diseases? What is particularly interesting about the work from the perspective of the public?
It is estimated that almost 8% (24 million) of the US population has diabetes. About 60-70% of diabetics also exhibit mild to severe forms of nervous system damage. In the past decade clinical studies have shown that type 2 diabetes (T2D) patients are at higher risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease (AD). It should be note that while there are some treatments for both T2D and AD, there is no cure for either yet. Despite all the research, these two diseases are also fairly poor understood. Moreover, so far the link between these two diseases is elusive and the mechanisms that explain at the atomic level the link between these two diseases are unknown.
How did you get into this area of research? How long have you been working on it?
Durng the last five years I did a lot of research related to AD. Unfortunately, I have seen many people around me who had T2D that developed AD. So, I read more in the scientific literature to learn as much as I could about the link between these diseases and found out that there is so much research to do in this area. Two years ago, when I opened my new lab at Ben-Gurion University in Negev, Israel, we started to investigate the link between these two diseases.
What is particularly interesting about the work from the perspective of the other researchers?
Many research findings showed the link between T2D and AD, but researchers have yet to determine how and why this happens and how we can prevent it to happen. In our lab, we focus not only in confirming the link between T2D and AD, but also in understanding why and how this link exists. So far, the link between these two diseases is elusive. Moreover, the mechanisms at the atomic level that may explain the link between these two diseases are unknown.
Do you receive federal funding for this work? If so, from what agency?
Our research is funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2011). We applied for an NIH R01 grant, which is currently under review in aim to take our preliminary results many steps ahead, since we believe that this research will contribute for future drug design to prevent T2D patients from developing AD.
Have you had any interesting findings thus far?
Although challenging, the study of the link between these diseases at the atomic level resolution has potentially significant implications. My student Michal Baram and I explored the proteins that are related to these diseases at the atomic level in aim to give insight into the biophysical mechanisms that illustrate how T2D leads to AD. Our findings significantly advance the current understating of the mechanisms that link T2D to AD. Moreover, our results will pave the way for design of compounds that may assist in preventing that T2D patients to progress AD.
-Yifat Miller, Ben-Gurion University