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Type 2 Diabetes Treatment Could Improve Brain Function

2 July 2012

Naturally-occurring gut molecules originally developed for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes could also provide additional beneficial effects in improving brain function, according to innovative research being carried out at the University of Ulster’s Biomedical Sciences Research Institute.

David Porter (26) from the Waterside in Londonderry, who was awarded his PhD in Biomedical Science at the University’s summer graduation ceremonies at Coleraine this week, is a member of the Diabetes Research Group lead by Professor Peter Flatt.

Type 2 diabetes is one of the biggest health challenges facing modern society. Unless properly managed, it can lead to serious health complications, such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease and nerve damage. With the link between Type 2 diabetes and obesity well established, David’s doctoral research evaluated the impact of high-fat diet and obesity-related diabetes on brain function and how brain function could be improved by novel naturally-occurring gut molecules originally developed to treat diabetes.

The Biomedical Sciences Research Institute is one of the most respected research facilities in its field and was ranked second in the UK in the last UK Research Assessment Exercise in 2008.

David said a family history of diabetes sparked his initial interest in the research topic.

“There is growing evidence to link Type 2 diabetes with neurodegenerative brain disorders and an increased risk of developing cognitive dysfunction, such as impaired memory and learning ability. However, if the diabetes can be controlled and properly managed, and if the underlying pathophysiological defects involved in type 2 diabetes alleviated, then brain function could be enhanced and further cognitive decline prevented.”

Dr Victor Gault, who supervised the PhD research said: “Obesity is a major contributor to Type 2 diabetes and recent observations have shown that over-consumption of a high-fat diet, obesity and related diabetes have profound adverse effects on cognitive function.

“The initial work reported in David’s thesis clearly illustrates that naturally-occurring gut molecules initially developed to treat Type 2 diabetes can also reverse the negative effects of high-fat diet and obesity on brain performance. However, whether therapy with these gut molecules has similar effects in humans with Type 2 diabetes still needs to be established.”

A past pupil of Foyle and Londonderry College, David, is the son of Linda and Gordon Porter. He graduated with a BSc in Biomedical Science in 2008 and hopes to continue with his research.