Diabetes drugs could be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research published in the journal Diabetologia.
Researchers suggest that the two conditions have so much in common that medication used to regulate glucose level could also slow down the onset of dementia.
The study, which aimed to find out why the diseases are often found together, also revealed that Alzheimer’s disease could lead to diabetes. Previous studies had only found that the reverse was possible.
The research involved mice genetically engineered to develop a form of Alzheimer’s. They were subjected to a range of tests and showed major signs of diabetes. Human trials involving 200 patients are now underway.
Professor Bettina Platt, the study’s lead author, said: ‘Many people are unaware of the relationship between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, but the fact is around 80 per cent of people with Alzheimer’s disease also have some form of diabetes or disturbed glucose metabolism.
‘This is hugely relevant as Alzheimer’s is in the vast majority of cases not inherited, and lifestyle factors must therefore be to blame.
‘Our research teams are particularly interested in the impact of lifestyle-related factors in dementia and by collaborating with experts in diabetes and metabolism, we have been able to investigate the nature of the link in great detail.
‘Until now, we always assumed obese people get type-2 diabetes and then are more likely to get dementia — we now show that actually it also works the other way around.
‘Additionally, it was previously believed diabetes starts in the periphery, ie the pancreas and liver, often due to consumption of an unhealthy diet, but here we show that dysregulation in the brain can equally lead to development of very severe diabetes — so again showing that diabetes doesn’t necessarily have to start with your body getting fat — it can start with changes in the brain.
‘This study provides a new therapeutic angle into Alzheimer’s disease and we now think some of the compounds that are used for obesity and diabetic deregulation might potentially be beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients as well.
‘The good news is there are a number of new drugs available right now which we are testing to see if they would reverse both Alzheimer’s and diabetes symptoms. We will also be able to study whether new treatments developed for Alzheimer’s can improve both, the diabetic and cognitive symptoms.’
This finding is certainly interesting, but there is a long way to go before it yields any useful clinical benefits. All we can conclude at this stage is that diabetes and Alzheimer’s share some common features which may mean that treatments for one may help the other. Human trials regarding treatment methods are ‘underway’ — so no results have been published yet.
Research score: 2/5