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New Study Links Diabetes To Slowed Brain Growth

Aaron Fulkerson

New research from a local clinic shows high levels of blood sugar may be detrimental to the developing brain.

If a child has Type 1 diabetes, his body does not produce insulin. Insulin puts sugar from the blood into the cells for energy. So kids whose bodies don’t make that insulin will often have excess sugar in their blood, until it can be regulated with an insulin shot.

New research led by Nemours Children's Clinic in Jacksonville has found a link between that continued high blood sugar and brain development.

"The rate of brain growth is slower in children with diabetes," said Dr. Nelly Mauras, Chief of Endocrinology at NemoursChildren's Clinic and lead author of the study.

Mauras and her team studied two groups of children, ages 4-9, one group with Type 1 Diabetes, and one group without. She said the good news was the researchers did not find any difference in cognitive abilities: kids in the study with and without diabetes performed the same on memory and IQ tests.

But what concerns researchers is these kids hadn’t had diabetes very long -- an average of about 2 and a half years. And, Mauras said, the anatomical changes tend to precede the cognitive changes, meaning the slowed brain growth might be noticeable first and the slowed cognitive function might come later.

"I think the take home message is that high blood sugars definitely matter," said Mauras. 

Mauras and her team just got their second grant from the National Institutes of Health. They will follow the same group of kids for four more years to see what happens as they grow and progress through puberty.

 The Nemours study was published in the December issue of the medical journal Diabetes.

Peter Haden is an award-winning investigative reporter and photographer currently working with The Center for Investigative Reporting. His stories are featured in media outlets around the world including NPR, CNN en Español, ECTV Ukraine, USA Today, Qatar Gulf Times, and the Malaysia Star.