Once again, diabetes and Alzheimer’s are sharing headlines. A study conducted by researchers from Lancaster University in the U.K. has shown that a commonly used diabetes drug, liraglutide, may reverse memory loss in the late stages of Alzheimer’s.
The drug, from a class known as GLP-1 (Glucagon-like peptide-1) analogue, is prescribed to diabetes patients because it stimulates insulin production. The new study found that liraglutide passes through the blood-brain barrier where it could prevent the build-up of toxic plaques in the brain that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Liraglutide may also improve memory function that was previously lost.
In the study, liraglutide was injected into mice that had late stage Alzheimer’s disease. During the two-month trial period, the mice performed significantly better on object recognition tests than before, and their brains showed a 30 percent reduction in the build-up of toxic plaques.
According to an article on Medical News Today, Professor Christian HÃ¶lscher, of the University of Lancaster and lead study author said that liraglutide "“activates receptors on neurons that set a growth-factor type of signaling cascade in motion. Oxidative stress is reduced and growth and replacement of neurons is improved.”
The study findings from the mouse model showed that the key biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease were significantly reduced. The markers affected were memory impairments, loss of synaptic activity, aggregation of beta-amyloid to form plaques in the brain, and chronic inflammation in the brain.
Liragultide is now being tested in a major clinical trial the will be headed by Dr. Paul Edison of Imperial College London. The team will test how human clinical participants will progress when compared to a control group that will receive a placebo.
Other insulin drugs used in Alzheimer’s trials
Intranasal insulin has been tested and shown to be helpful for people who had Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) or or early stage Alzheimer’s disease. A short term study by researchers at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System/University of Washington-Seattle showed that treating the participants with intranasal insulin had a positive effect on slowing or reversing their cognitive decline. As with liragultide, intranasal insulin will need more testing to see if the earlier promising results will show consistency.
While preventing or delaying the development of diabetes has been shown to lower one’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, even keeping blood sugars low for non-diabetics has been shown to help. A University of Arizona study showed that a pattern of lower metabolism in the brain of diabetics was noted in diabetes-free participants with high blood sugar levels, as well. It appears that regulation of insulin could mean lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s. If insulin regulating drugs are proven to prevent or reverse cognitive damage for people with Alzheimer’s disease, we’ll have one more weapon in what could be a multi-faceted approach to preventing or treating the disease.
Whiteman, H. (2013, September 16) Diabetes drug enters clinical trial for Alzheimer’s treatment. MedicalNewsToday.com. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266081.php
Bardi, J. (2012, June 21) Preventing or Better Managing Diabetes May Prevent Cognitive Decline, According to UCSF Study. University of California San Francisco. Retrieved from http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2012/06/12216/preventing-or-better-managing-diabetes-may-prevent-cognitive-decline-according
Yaffe, K. et. al. (2012, June) Diabetes, Glucose Control, and 9-Year Cognitive Decline Among Older Adults Without Dementia. Archives of Neurology. (Retrieved from http://archneur.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1183076
HealthDay. (2013, May 8) High Blood Sugar May Add to Alzheimer’s Risk: Study. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2013/05/08/high-blood-sugar-may-add-to-alzheimers-risk-study
Marcus, B. (2010, July 14) Insulin via nasal spray shows benefit in Alzheimer’s patients. USA Today. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-07-15-insulin15_ST_N.htm
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.