Glucose Kills Brain Cells After Severe Hypoglycemia

The Diabetes Center at UCSF is proud of its partnership with diabetes researchers and clinicians across all UCSF campuses, hospitals and research centers. These complementary “neighborhoods” are helping to drive research in numerous directions – all focused on improving the lives of those living with diabetes.

One physician researcher located at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in San Francisco has long been interested in the challenging problem of diabetic hypoglycemia, or severe low blood sugar. Ray Swanson, MD, Chief of Neurology and Rehabilitation at the VAMC, and his colleagues have learned through animal studies that brain damage -- thought to be caused by severe hypoglycemia -- actually occurs when glucose is administered to treat the low blood sugar.

Furthermore, it appears as though high levels of glucose given right after hypoglycemia is more damaging than a slower return to normal glucose levels. Even though these studies were in animal models and haven’t been investigated in humans yet, the findings were surprising and may have clinical relevance for the treatment of hypoglycemia in an emergency room situation. Dr. Swanson’s full study can be found in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.