London: A commonly prescribed diabetes drug can reverse memory loss and the build-up of plaques in the brain linked to Alzheimer's disease, scientists have found.
The study, led by Professor Christian Holscher at Lancaster University, found that the drug liraglutide might be able to reverse some of the damage caused by Alzheimer's, even in the later stages of the condition.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. The condition is characterised by the slow death of brain cells. It is progressive, ultimately terminal and there is yet no cure.
If successful in clinical trials this will be the first new dementia treatment in a decade.
In the study, mice with late-stage Alzheimer's given the drug performed significantly better on an object recognition test and their brains showed a 30 per cent reduction in the build-up of toxic plaques.
Most drugs that show promising effects in dementia do so at an early stage of the disease; these results from a more advanced stage of Alzheimer's will provide hope that this drug could be of benefit for people in the moderate to severe stages too.
Liraglutide is a member of a class of drugs known as a GLP-1 analogue.
The drug is used to stimulate insulin production in diabetes, but research shows it can also pass through the blood brain barrier and have a protective effect on brain cells.
"This exciting study suggests that one of these drugs can reverse the biological causes of Alzheimer's even in the late stages and demonstrates we're on the right track," said Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer's Society.
A major clinical trial led by Dr Paul Edison of Imperial College London to test the effectiveness of the drug on people with Alzheimer's disease will begin recruiting patients in the next few weeks.
The study was published in the journal Neuropharmacology.