Diabetes drug for Alzheimer's

From our spring 2018 issue of Care and Cure magazine, we learn about a drug normally prescribed for people with diabetes that has been shown to reverse memory loss in mice that were bred to develop the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers have known for some time that having type 2 diabetes increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. It can also make Alzheimer’s progress more quickly.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by someone either not having enough insulin or the cells of the brain no longer responding to insulin. Insulin is important, as it controls the amount of sugar in the blood and has been shown to protect brain cells. Researchers had noticed that, in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, some of their brain cells were not responding to insulin. This led them to become interested in whether Alzheimer’s disease might be a sort of ‘diabetes of the brain’, that might be possible to treat it with modified diabetes drugs.

Professor Christian Hölscher's research

In the recent study, Professor Christian Hölscher’s laboratory treated the ‘mouse model’ of Alzheimer’s disease with a drug that activates three chemical chains of events affect the body in a similar way to insulin. When these are switched on, they trigger processes that help to protect brain cells.

The mice from this ‘mouse model’ have the same clumping of toxic amyloid protein in the brain that people with Alzheimer’s do, along with similar changes in how their cells make energy and communicate with one another. They treated the mice with either a placebo that would produce no effect or the triple-action drug.

After two months of daily treatment with the triple-action drug, mice performed better on memory tests than untreated mice. The scientists also found that the brains of treated animals showed higher levels of a chemical that works to keep brain cells functioning. In the treated mice, they saw less clumping of amyloid protein, fewer signs of stress and more surviving brains cells than in mice that were given the placebo.

‘This new approach shows great promise. Initial pilot studies in people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease testing earlier versions of this drug type have already shown promising results,’ said Professor Hölscher. ‘Hopefully we will be able to find a treatment that can stop this dreadful disease.’

We must remember that this is only the early stages of testing and the drug has only been shown to work in mice so far. Humans are far more complex than mice, so we will need to wait a few more years for the results of clinical trials to tell us if the same positive effects are found in people. All going well, this is a finding could revolutionise the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s. Up until now, the treatments undergoing clinical trials have focused on targeting toxic amyloid directly.

‘This new approach shows great promise. Initial pilot studies in people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease testing earlier versions of this drug type have already shown promising results.’

This research has opened up a whole new area of potential new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. The next steps is for the triple-action drug to be tested in healthy humans. This will confirm whether it is safe for people to use.

A trial currently testing a similar drug in people with Alzheimer’s disease is partially funded by Alzheimer’s Society. In a few years a new, more advanced drug may be ready to be tested in people who have dementia. We look forward to hearing about the future of this exciting field of research.

Find out more information about how the drug discovery programme is working to make new treatments available in half the time.

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