Researchers from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom have found that a type 2 diabetes drug significantly reverses memory loss in mice with Alzheimer’s disease.
Though the benefits have only been seen in mice so far, researchers believe that the potential for human use is great. The fact that the drug has already been approved for human consumption adds to its allure.
The diabetes drug “holds clear promise of being developed into a new treatment for chronic neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease,” said lead researcher Christian Holscher.
Dr. Doug Brown from the Alzheimer’s Society in the U.K. spoke about the importance of studying already-approved drugs for humans and their potential benefits for Alzheimer’s patients.
“With no new treatments in nearly 15 years, we need to find new ways of tackling Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Brown said. “It’s imperative that we explore whether drugs developed to treat other conditions can benefit people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This approach to research could make it much quicker to get promising new drugs to the people who need them.”
The diabetes drug is a triple receptor agonist and appears to protect brain cells from degeneration in three different ways, as opposed to a single approach. The study notes that the drug activated and enhanced the GLP-1, GIP and glucagon receptors at the same time, which are all growth factors.
Growth factor signaling has been shown to be reduced in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. So by using the triple receptor agonist, the idea was to regenerate damaged brain cells and protect against further damage.
The drug was tested on mice that were genetically modified to have symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, such as memory loss, synaptic loss, formation of amyloid plaques on the brain, etc. Mice in the advanced stages of neurodegeneration were treated with the drug.
In a water maze test, the mice treated with the diabetes drug had improved learning and memory formation. The drug also:
- reduced the amount of toxic amyloid plaques in the brain;
- reduced both chronic inflammation and oxidative stress;
- slowed down the rate of nerve cell loss.
“These very promising outcomes,” said Professor Holscher, “demonstrate the efficacy of these novel multiple receptor drugs that originally were developed to treat type 2 diabetes but have shown consistent neuro-protective effects in several studies.”
Alzheimer’s and Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and also seems to promote rapid advancement of the neurodegenerative disease.
The connection could be a result of improper insulin distribution between cells. Insulin is another growth factor known to protect cells. Insulin resistance, which is the biological mechanism that drives type 2 diabetes has been observed in patients’ brains with Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers have been studying diabetes drugs and their potential to help Alzheimer’s patients for some time. A study on the type 2 diabetes drug liraglutide showed that it improved symptoms of Alzheimer’s and reduced the amount of amyloid plaques in the brain.
It’s far from a sure thing that this triple receptor agonist drug will benefit human patients with Alzheimer’s. However, that a multi-approach drug has shown promising results is definitely cause for optimism.
More than five million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050 there could be upwards of 16 million, so new treatment options are badly needed. And if drugs originally intended to treat other diseases can also help Alzheimer’s patients, we should be looking into that as much as possible.