Darrell Mousseau

U of S researcher looking into ties between breast cancer, Alzheimer’s

What do depression, diabetes, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease have in common?

By Marg Sheridan

What do depression, diabetes, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease have in common? Darrell Mousseau has found some intriguing links that could lead to better tools for diagnosing these diseases.

Mousseau, an Alzheimer’s researcher in the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine, made national headlines in early 2014 when his research found that men and women who were afflicted with depression and went on to develop Alzheimer’s had suffered from two different types of the mental disorder. The revelation could be a key to help figure out what kind of drug would work best for either gender.

“Depression is known to be a risk factor in Alzheimer’s disease, and by definition if it’s a risk factor it needs to be happening before the disease,” explained Mousseau, who holds the Saskatchewan Research Chair in Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia. “Our hypothesis is basically that there are some people who have depression who, because of their depression, will go on to develop Alzheimer’s.”

Mousseau and his team have continued to progress in researching that link, but have made a few more discoveries, including one that has revealed a reverse correlation between breast cancer and Alzheimer’s.

“It would appear that some of the genes that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease have a very significant effect on breast cancer cells,” said Mousseau.

“One of the things that we’re finding is these genes, which have historically been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, (is) if you put them into breast cancer cells they make those breast cancer cells do some very weird things that (could) help us to understand breast cancer.”

If the researchers understand what the Alzheimer’s genes are doing in the breast cancer cells, they can compare it to what the genes are doing differently in other cells and perhaps figure out how to diagnose either disease.

“It would be interesting if we can figure out in one person if they’re at risk of breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease by doing a simple test or two,” said Mousseau.

Mousseau and his research team will also shortly be publishing a paper on how diabetes is likely increasing susceptibility to depression ­– both diseases being risk factors for Alzheimer’s.

“If we can figure out, (between) depression and diabetes, which one comes first that’ll help us to identify in the human population if you get depressed first, and follow that with diabetes, your chances of Alzheimer’s are increased – or vice versa,” explained Mousseau.

Mousseau’s work to help understand the disease has increased his own prominence and the visibility of Alzheimer’s research as a whole, achievements which garnered him an invitation to a private fundraising weekend this past summer hosted by the Brandt Group of Companies. There, with Premier Brad Wall in attendance, organizers raised more than $1.3 million to be distributed by the Alzheimer’s Society of Saskatchewan – some of which will likely be finding its way Mousseau’s lab to continue to support his work.