Link found between diabetes and increased Parkinson’s risk

An international team of researchers have uncovered a biological link that may account for why those with diabetes have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s.

Results published in the scientific journal Movement Disorders identify a potential mechanism that allows diabetes to contribute to the loss of brain cells in mice models of Parkinson's. 

The study, which was part-funded by Parkinson’s UK, adds to growing evidence of a link between these two conditions.

Previous studies have estimated that those with type 2 diabetes have a 31% increased risk of develop Parkinson’s than those without diabetes. Existing diabetes medications, like exenatide, have even shown potential for protecting the brain cells lost in Parkinson’s with late-stage clinical trials planned to start soon.

This new research shows that diabetes may contribute to Parkinson’s by activating oxidative stress - a type of stress that happens when toxic byproducts of cellular reactions, known as free radicals, start to build up.

Oxidative stress and Parkinson’s

In the late 1980s, scientists studying brain tissue donated to the Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank found evidence that nerve cells are damaged by oxidative stress in Parkinson's.

Oxidative stress is now believed to play a key role in the death of brain cells in Parkinson’s and drugs that can reduce this stress are being developed. 

Today, Parkinson’s UK continues to drive this area of research forward by investing in research to target damaging oxidative stress as part of the Virtual Biotech portfolio.

Dr Beckie Port, Research Manager at Parkinson’s UK, said: 

“While the connection between Parkinson’s and diabetes has been known for some time, this latest research is a very exciting step towards a deeper understanding of the link between the two conditions.  

“Researchers have been interested in the potential of existing diabetes medication to protect people from Parkinson’s and even slow the loss of brain cells caused by the condition - something no known treatment can do.

“Our work in this area is paving the way to develop treatments that target the underlying causes of Parkinson’s, not just mask the symptoms, as current treatments do. By slowing or halting cell damage before it starts, we could stop Parkinson’s in its tracks, truly improving the lives of people living with this devastating condition.”

Find opportunities to take part in research

There are many studies underway across the UK that need people with and without Parkinson’s. From home-based questionnaires, to trialling new treatment approaches, you can make a difference by taking part.