Dr Erin Walsh

Australian National University
Research Field: Population Health

It is well established that ageing is associated with brain atrophy, particularly in adulthood. After age 60, the typical adult brain atrophies ≈0.5% per year. This constitutes substantial cumulative volume loss. In one decade, the brain atrophies approximately 54ml, 5% of total volume. A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes mellitus is associated with a 0.1- 1.5% lower total brain volume, exacerbating this age-associated atrophy and increasing the risk of pathological outcomes.

There is mounting evidence that variation of blood glucose in the normal fasting glucose range may also impact brain structure, and consequently and be associated with cognitive impairment.

Dr Walsh’s research focusses on precisely estimating the magnitude and underlying mechanisms of this effect. In this process she routinely develops new approaches and methodologies (i.e. her recent novel work in shape analysis) to support this. To date, she has found that even subtly higher blood glucose levels in the normal range (e.g. 5.5mmol/L versus 5mmol/L) are associated with an≈0.06% comparatively greater decrease in total brain volume each year. She is currently digging further into the associations between blood glucose and specific sub-regions of the brain (e.g. the hippocampus, implicated in memory), and the role of related factors such as diet, exercise, and adiposity.

2018