London: People with Alzheimer’s have been offered new hope with experts claiming that a diabetes drug could be used to treat the devastating effects of the disease.
Scientists at the University of Ulster found the drug could help protect damaged brain cells and may even promote the growth of new ones.
Type 2 diabetes is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s and it is thought that impaired insulin signalling in the brain could damage nerve cells and contribute to the disease.
In trials, the scientists used the experimental drug (Val8)GLP-1 that simulates the activity of a protein called GLP-1 – it helps the body control its response to blood sugar.
Healthy mice were treated with the drug and its effects in the brain were studied.
The researchers found it promoted new brain cells to grow in the hippocampus, an area involved in memory.
But blocking the effect of GLP-1 in the brain made mice perform more poorly on learning and memory tasks, while boosting it with the drug seemed to have no effect on behaviour. There were also no side effects.
(Val8)GLP-1 works in a similar way to two existing drugs, Byetta and Victoza, used to treat Type 2 diabetes.
The results raises the possibility Alzheimer’s sufferers may also be prescribed the drugs to stave off symptoms, like memory loss.
“This could have huge implications for diseases where brain cells are lost,” the paper quoted study leader Professor Christian Holscher as saying.