Diabetes drug may reverse Alzheimer's and enters major clinical trial

Published 11 September 2013

A commonly prescribed diabetes drug could reverse memory loss and the build-up of plaques on the brain linked to Alzheimer's, according to Alzheimer's Society funded research.

The research is published today (Wednesday 11 September) in Neuropharmacology. The findings come as the charity prepares the next phase of its Drug Discovery programme which aims to repurpose existing drugs as dementia treatments in as little as five to ten years.

Results from the study, led by Professor Christian Hölscher at Lancaster University, show that liraglutide might be able to reverse some of the damage caused by Alzheimer's disease in the later stages of the condition. Mice with late-stage Alzheimer's given the drug performed significantly better on an object recognition test and their brains showed a 30 per cent reduction in the build-up of toxic plaques.

Liraglutide is a member of a class of drugs known as a GLP-1 analogue. The drug is used to stimulate insulin production in diabetes, but research shows it can also pass through the blood brain barrier and have a protective effect on brain cells.

Alzheimer's Society's flagship Drug Discovery programme seeks to repurpose existing drugs for use in dementia. An earlier study of liraglutide funded by the charity showed promising results in mice with early stage Alzheimer's. This research now demonstrates the drug's potential as a treatment in the later stages of the condition. A major clinical trial led by Dr Paul Edison of Imperial College London and partly funded by Alzheimer's Society to test the effectiveness of the drug in people with Alzheimer's disease will also begin recruiting patients in the next few weeks.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. The condition is caused by diseases of the brain and is characterised by the slow death of brain cells. It is progressive, there are few effective treatments and as yet there is no cure. If successful in clinical trials liraglutide will be the first new dementia treatment in a decade.

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer's Society said:

'Developing new drugs from scratch can take 20 years and hundreds of millions of pounds. We owe it to the 800,000 people with dementia in the UK to do everything we can to accelerate the process. Our focus on repurposing existing drugs as dementia treatments is an incredibly exciting way of bringing new treatments closer.

This exciting study suggests that one of these drugs can reverse the biological causes of Alzheimer's even in the late stages and demonstrates we're on the right track. We're now funding a major new trial to bring it closer to a position where it can be improving the lives of people with dementia.'

Research reference: Christian Holscher, 'Liraglutide can reverse memory impairment, synaptic loss and reduce plaque load in aged APP/PS1 mice, a model of Alzheimer's disease.' Published online in Neuropharmacology, Wednesday 11 September 2013.

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