March 24, 2020

Disease Connection Answers May Exist within this Arizona Tribe

Recent studies are uncovering how diabetes may structurally alter the brain, leading to cognitive decline.

The Pima Indians, an American Indian tribe in southern Arizona, may hold a key to understanding the relationship between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, two diseases rapidly increasing in the United States.

Diabetes affects 30 million Americans, with an additional 84 million Americans having prediabetes. The disease is known to cause nerve damage in limbs and damage to kidneys, the eyes and other organs.

Eva L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., the director of the NeuroNetwork for Emerging Therapies and ALS Center of Excellence at Michigan Medicine, is working with Robert Nelson, M.D., at the


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, located in Phoenix, to study these conditions. Dr. Nelson has spent his academic career understanding diabetes and its complications in the Pima Indians.

Recent studies are beginning to uncover how diabetes may structurally alter the brain, and increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Over 5.8 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, which robs people of their mental capabilities. As the U.S. population ages, the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is predicted to reach 14 million by 2050.

Dr. Eva Feldman headshot 2020

Eva Feldman, MD, PhD

Russell N. DeJong Professor of Neurology
Director, NeuroNetwork for Emerging Therapies
Director, ALS Center of Excellence