Researchers in China and the UK have tested an experimental diabetes treatment on mice with features of Alzheimer’s disease. The study, published today in the journal Brain Research, indicates that the drug may have improved certain aspects of memory and thinking ability and limited brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s.
There is a well-established link between diabetes and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Previous research in mice showed that a class of drugs used to treat people with diabetes may also act against Alzheimer’s disease. These findings have prompted a clinical trial which is currently testing one of these drugs in people living with Alzheimer’s disease.
This new study involved a drug known as a triple receptor agonist, which is being developed as a potential treatment for diabetes but has not yet been approved for people. Researchers tested the drug in mice with features of Alzheimer’s, giving them daily injections over a period of two months.
They found that mice given the injections were able to escape from a maze more quickly than those that weren’t. When they examined the brains of the mice, those that received the drug had lower levels of Alzheimer’s-related brain changes, such as signs of inflammation and the build-up of the Alzheimer’s protein, amyloid.
Dr David Reynolds Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Not only has the discovery of a link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s risk empowered people to take positive action around their brain health, it has also presented a promising avenue for research into better treatments.
“Alzheimer’s is a complex disease involving many different brain changes and it is important to come at these from as many different angles as possible. It is great to see encouraging findings emerging from research, and this study broadens efforts towards a treatment that could tackle damage to the brain in the disease.
“Both Alzheimer’s and diabetes involve changes in glucose metabolism and researchers are investigating whether existing diabetes drugs could improve symptoms in people with Alzheimer’s by boosting this process. While this triple agonist drug has been developed to improve glucose metabolism in diabetes, unfortunately this study didn’t measure this effect, making it difficult to understand what the mechanism underlying potential memory improvements might be.
“The researchers didn’t test the drug in mice without features of Alzheimer’s and without this important control group it is difficult to interpret these results with confidence. While the treated-mice showed signs of improvement in their ability to navigate a maze, this picture is not clear and by some measures they did not perform any better in this test than they would have due to chance.
“Animal studies are a vital first step in research but positive signs like these do not always translate into benefits in people. Future studies will need to build on these findings to further assess the potential of this drug and its suitability for testing in people.
“Currently half a million people are living with Alzheimer’s in the UK and with this number on the increase, we urgently need to find treatments capable of stopping the disease in its tracks. There is a long road between studies that show an effect in animals and treatments in the hands of patients, and scientists will only be able to realise the potential of promising findings like these if we continue to invest in research.”