The type 2 diabetes drug metformin could be used to help treat Alzheimer’s disease, according to research.
US researchers say they have found evidence to suggest that metformin has a protective effect on the parts of the brain that are usually damaged in those with Alzheimer’s, a common form of dementia.
In the UK Alzheimer’s disease is thought to affect around six in every 10 people who have dementia. It is closely linked with type 2 diabetes although this link is not fully understood.
Scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai conducted a post-mortem examination of the brains of 63 people with dementia, around of whom had type 2 diabetes.
They then compared those who took metformin and those who didn’t. There was also a small group analysed which did have either health condition.
The team specifically analysed the common hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, and discovered that those who had been taking metformin had fewer abnormalities in the tiny blood vessels in their brains and less abnormal gene activity.
“The results of this study are important because they give us new insights for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” said senior author Vahram Haroutunian.
“Most modern Alzheimer’s treatments target amyloid plaques and haven’t succeeded in effectively treating the disease. Diabetes medications such as metformin are FDA approved and safely administered to millions of people and appear to have a beneficial effect on people with Alzheimer’s.
“This opens opportunities to conduct research trials on people using similar drugs or on drugs that have similar effects on the brain’s biological pathways and cell types identified in this study.”
Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and there is a lot of interest in the links between the two conditions.
“The only way to tell if antidiabetic drugs could help tackle Alzheimer’s disease is through comprehensive clinical trials.”
The findings have been published in the journal PLOS One.

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