Taking GLP-1 receptor agonists reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease among those who have type 2 diabetes, researchers have said.

A team from University College London (UCL) say the findings are important because it might mean repurposing the medications in the future to protect the brain.

The study involved examining the medical records of just over 100,000 people with type 2 diabetes.

The research team confirmed that those with type 2 are more likely to develop Parkinson’s, when compared to another group of people who did not have diabetes.

They found that the risk was reduced by about 60% among those who were taking exenatide, a GLP-1 receptor agonist.

Co-lead author Professor Tom Foltynie, from the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, said: “Our study has strengthened evidence that there is a link between type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, although it remains clear that most people with diabetes will not go on to develop Parkinson’s.

“We have added to evidence that exenatide may help to prevent or treat Parkinson’s disease, hopefully by affecting the course of the disease and not merely reducing symptoms, but we need to progress with our clinical trial before making any recommendations.”

The team are now gearing up to carry out more work into the subject, where they will look at the impact exenatide has for those with Parkinson’s.

The drug works by increasing the release of insulin, while also reducing excessive glucagon levels.

A previous study, led by Professor Foltynie, discovered that people with Parkinson’s who used exenatide on a weekly basis for a year, performed better in movement tests than those who injected a placebo.

Co-lead author Dr Li Wei, from the UCL School of Pharmacy, added: “It may be helpful for doctors to consider other risk factors for Parkinson’s disease when prescribing medications for type 2 diabetes, but further research will be needed to confirm clinical implications.”

The findings have been published in the Brain journal.

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