Diabetes drug Liraglutide could reverse damage caused by Alzheimers disease

Wed, 22 Apr 2015
Researchers from Imperial College London are recruiting people with early Alzheimers disease for a trial of a diabetes drug. If successful, the drug could reverse the damage caused by Alzheimer's disease.

The study, which will cost £5million, could lead to the biggest breakthrough in the treatment of dementia for over decades.

Liraglutide and Alzheimer's disease

Last year, researchers discovered that the diabetes drug Liraglutide reduced the damage caused by dementia in mice. Now Liraglutide's restorative effects are being trialled on over 200 men and women in their 50s.

Alzheimer's disease and diabetes

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in the UK, and one that has close links with type 2 diabetes. People over the age of 60 with type 2 diabetes are considered twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's.

In fact, it has been proposed that Alzheimer's disease could be known as type 3 diabetes, because insulin resistance in the brain is a key part of its progression.

Nobody knows exactly why type 2 diabetes increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Some research indicates that it is due to damage to the small blood vessels that feed cells and nerves caused by diabetes.

Diabetes is also linked to memory loss more generally. Over time, the prolonged exposure to high blood glucose levels - caused by a lack of insulin production or ineffective insulin - can damage the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that deals with concentration, attention, memory, and information processing.

Liraglutide: could a common type 2 diabetes drug treat Alzheimer's?

Liraglutide (or Victoza) is a relatively new GLP-1 analogue used to treat type 2 diabetes. Liraglutide functions in two ways: it stimulates insulin production and suppresses glucagon production.

Liraglutide, which is injected once a day, lowers blood glucose levels both after meals and while fasting, making it easier for people with type 2 diabetes to manage their diabetes. Liraglutide also improves weight loss.

Could Liraglutide treat Alzheimer's disease?

"We're hoping this will improve their memory function in people and their quality of life and that their memory will improve," said Dr. Paul Edison, Clinical Senior Lecturer at Imperial College London and Consultant Physician at Hammersmith Hospital, and leader of the study.

"We're hoping we will be able to delay the progression of the disease."

Dr. Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, called the developments "encouraging." However, he stressed that it is too early to tell whether the memory-restorative effects of Liraglutide will translate to humans.

"Earlier research in mice has suggested that Liraglutide may be able to act against Alzheimer's disease, but positive results from animal studies - a vital first step in research - do not always translate into benefits for people. Clinical trials are crucial to understand whether a treatment could help people with Alzheimer's disease, so it's encouraging to see this drug taken forward for human trials."
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