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Manitoba researchers investigate link between diabetes and dementia

Is there a connection between diabetes and dementia? This summer, researchers at the University of Manitoba are investigating just that, with help from Mitacs Globalink intern Jesua Bueno Gasca.

Supervised by Assistant Professor Eftekhar Eftekharpour, Jesua is part of a research team that is investigating a possible biological connection between diabetes and dementia. While recent population studies point to a correlation between diabetes and an increased risk of developing dementia, researchers don’t yet know the exact biological mechanisms that explain it. Jesua is spending his summer investigating one possible answer.

In patients with dementia, brain cells have died or stopped working properly. This causes a decline in cognitive function. Researchers know this happens when cells react to ‘trauma’ by releasing harmful proteins that cause their own death or damage. Since people with diabetes tend to have high concentrations of sugar (glucose) in their blood stream, Jesua is testing to see if the cells react to glucose as though it is a trauma, and if they do, in what way. If that is the case, the cells will either become damaged or die, thereby helping to explain the connection between diabetes and dementia. Professor Eftekharpour and Jesua hope this research could contribute to the development of medications or therapies that target dementia at its earliest stages.

Jesua says he’s passionate about this field of research: “I’ve always been intrigued by the connection between the how the mind works, and how that’s demonstrated in our biology. Doctors don’t always have ways to translate what we know about the brain into tools that we can use to assess, diagnose, and treat the patients in their clinics. So I want to develop solutions that can give us a greater chance to help people with mental illness as well as cognitive disorders like dementia.”

When he’s not in the lab contributing to this important research first-hand, Jesua has found a rich experience in Winnipeg, “This city is so diverse — it’s been amazing to connect with people from different backgrounds, and to step out from what’s familiar to me.

“I would love to come back and continue doing research in Manitoba.  This internship has been an amazing experience for me; I’m so glad that I came.”


Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink Research Internship program. In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with the following international partners to support Globalink: Universities Australia; the China Scholarship Council; Campus France; the German Academic Exchange Service; Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education, Tecnológico de Monterrey, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico; Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education; and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord.