When we talk about diabetes, we typically talk about two versions of the condition: Type 1 or Type 2. It’s important to distinguish between the two, because the type determines the treatment. But what if there’s a new type of diabetes — one that has important consequences for the brain?

Diabetes researcher (and Lion) Dr. Marco Songini believes he has made a connection between what he is calling Type 3 diabetes and dementia. It’s a discovery that could revolutionize how we approach the prevention and treatment of cognitive (brain) dysfunction.


Some may say Songini was destined to be a diabetes researcher. As a young man, he had a promising future as a swimmer and water polo goalkeeper, but those dreams were thwarted after an accident injured his leg. He shifted his goals and set his sights on becoming an engineer. But just one year after his accident Songini was diagnosed with diabetes.

What Songini experienced as a person with diabetes was that it isn’t easy being a person with diabetes. He had difficult relationships with his doctors and waited a long time for appointments. Blood had to be drawn twice a day and the syringes boiled between uses. At that time, there were no reagent strips or portable blood glucose meters. The results of the blood glucose tests weren’t available until several days later, making the day-to-day management of his condition that much harder.

“I realized how important it was for a person with diabetes to become independent in the management of his or her condition,” he says, “I personally became convinced I had to know the most about diabetes in order to be able to live together with it and not be overwhelmed.”

So he became a diabetes researcher.

“After the first few difficult years, I started to lead a very active, almost frenetic life in an attempt to show to myself and others that there was nothing I couldn’t do because I had diabetes.”

Since becoming a specialist in diabetes research, Songini has helped many patients deal with the demands of the condition. And now, he’s helped to define a new kind of diabetes which has helped bring attention to the impact the condition has on the brain.


In Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system destroys the cells that make insulin — the hormone that processes sugar. People with Type 1 diabetes require regular insulin injections to maintain a safe blood glucose level.

In Type 2 diabetes, persistent high levels of sugar in the blood make the body less able to use the hormone properly. Type 2 diabetes is typically associated with poor diet and insufficient exercise, though family history can play a role as well. Eating better, getting in a fitness routine, and taking medications can all help control high blood sugar in people with Type 2 diabetes.

Previously it was thought that the central nervous system (which the brain is part of) was not affected by diabetes. But recent research has been indicating that there is indeed a connection between high blood sugar, insulin, and brain function. And patients with diabetes who develop dementia have a unique form of the disease. Based on these findings, Songini and his team have been investigating the possibility of a third type of diabetes related to Alzheimer’s.

“It breaks the old ‘dogma’ that the brain is independent of insulin’s action on it,” says Songini.


If proven true, by connecting diabetes and dementia, healthcare professionals may be able to treat — or even head off — the devastating consequences of cognitive decline. What’s especially interesting about Songini's research is that it shows that only slightly elevated levels of blood sugar can cause the devastating effects of cognitive dysfunction.

Which means even people who get a clean bill of health from their doctor may be at risk.

Now more than ever Lions should “keep doing the good job to prevent diabetes,” says Songini. There may be even more benefits to a healthy lifestyle than we knew.