Diabetes drug used in three-pronged attack against Alzheimer’s

A drug for treating type 2 diabetes that’s been tested and approved for use in humans might just have a revolutionary new application, researchers have found. The study, published in Brain Research, reveals the ameliorating effect of the drug – referred to only as “triple receptor agonist”, or TA – on the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in mice.

Diabetes drug used in three-pronged attack against Alzheimer’s

While not the first medication that’s been rolled out as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s, it has special qualities which make it a particularly promising development. Firstly, it plays a tripartite role in protecting the brain cells compromised by the disease, activating GIP-1, GIP and glucagon receptors all at once, all of which protect the brain against degeneration. Secondly, its approved status for use in humans, albeit for different ends, means it could hit the market faster than other experimental drugs being trialled.

TA is currently used for treating type 2 diabetes in humans, a disease which previous research has linked with Alzheimer’s. The former is a significant risk factor for the latter, and has been proven to accelerate the onset of the neurodegenerative disease. Researchers attribute this dynamic to a stunted level of insulin – proven to protect brain cells – in the body’s cells. As such, the idea that medication of this kind could make an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s has been circulating among researchers for a while.

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Now comes an exciting new breakthrough, with the drug proving an effective treatment in mice genetically engineered to have Alzheimer’s. Using a maze to glean the creatures’ memory formation and retention in correspondence with treatment, researchers found that the drug “significantly reversed the memory deficit”.

The drug “holds clear promise of being developed into a new treatment for chronic neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease”, says Christian Hölscher of Lancaster University, the study’s senior author. “These very promising outcomes demonstrate the efficacy of these novel multiple receptor drugs that originally were developed to treat type 2 diabetes but have shown consistent neuro-protective effects in several studies.”

What’s more, researchers found the drug had several other positive effects on the participant rodents, slowing down the rate of nerve cell loss as well as reducing chronic inflammation, oxidative stress and the amount of toxic amyloid plaques in their brains. It was also found to enhance levels of a particular brain growth factor which protects nerve cell functioning. Talk about a panacea…

It’s still early days for the drug, which might not yield the same positive results in humans. But it’s a promising start to treating a pervasive and degenerative disease, which currently affects 850,000 people in the UK, and over five million in the US – figures expected to rise significantly in the future. If there were ever a time to medical science to bolster its defence mechanisms against the disease, that time is now.

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