Summary: Researchers discover promising Alzheimer’s treatment that ‘significantly reversed memory loss’ in mice with Alzheimer’s disease. The novel treatment is based on type 2 diabetes drugs. [Author: Brady Hartman.]
Promising Alzheimer’s Treatment Using Diabetes Drug
Scientists announced a drug that ‘significantly reversed memory loss’ in mice with Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers from Lancaster University in the UK say the novel drug – created to treat type 2 diabetes – works through a triple method of action and also add that the medicine could provide substantial improvements in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The drug combines three growth factors that act in multiple ways to protect the brain from degeneration. The Lancaster University scientists published their study results on January 1 in the journal Brain Research.
Lead researcher Professor Christian Holscher of Lancaster University said the novel treatment
“holds clear promise of being developed into a new treatment for chronic neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.”
Alzheimer’s disease is the most frequent cause of dementia in the United States, currently afflicting more than 5 million adults. Current drugs only treat the symptoms of the disease, however, no medicine halts or delays its progression. If a drug or lifestyle change – such as diet or exercise – could be found that delayed functional deterioration by as little as 1 to 2 years, it would substantially reduce suffering to Alzheimer’s patients as well costs to families and society.
Dr. Doug Brown, the Director of Research and Development at the Alzheimer’s Society, said:
“With no new treatments in nearly 15 years, we need to find new ways of tackling Alzheimer’s. It’s imperative that we explore whether drugs developed to treat other conditions can benefit people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This approach to research could make it much quicker to get promising new drugs to the people who need them.” adding “Although the benefits of these ‘triple agonist’ drugs have so far only been found in mice, other studies with existing diabetes drugs such as liraglutide have shown real promise for people with Alzheimer’s, so further development of this work is crucial.”
Using Diabetes Drugs to Treat Alzheimer’s
This experiment marks the first time that scientists have used a triple receptor drug which acts in multiple ways to protect the brain from degeneration. The novel treatment combines the growth factors GLP-1, GIP, and Glucagon, all three of which are used to treat type 2 diabetes. Previous researchers have observed impaired growth factor signaling in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Tests Yield Impressive Results
The Lancaster University researchers used APP/PS1 transgenic mice as their test subjects. These mice are specially bred with the human genes that cause Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have found these genes in people who have an inherited form of Alzheimer’s.
The scientists at Lancaster University also tested the novel drug on aged transgenic mice in the advanced stages of neurodegeneration. In a maze test, the novel drug improved learning and memory formation and also:
- Reduced the amount of brain amyloid plaques typically found in Alzheimer’s.
- Enhanced levels of a brain growth factor that protects nerve cell functioning.
- Slowed down the rate of nerve cell loss.
- Reduced both chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.
Professor Holscher added:
“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.” adding “Clinical studies with an older version of this drug type already showed very promising results in people with Alzheimer’s disease or with mood disorders” adding “Here we show that a novel triple receptor drug shows promise as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s but further dose-response tests and direct comparisons with other [Alzheimer’s] drugs have to be conducted in order to evaluate if this new drug is superior to previous ones.”
Alzheimer’s Disease Linked to Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and has been implicated in the progression of the debilitating condition. Researchers have linked impaired insulin to cerebral degenerative processes in type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Scientists have also observed insulin desensitization in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The desensitization could play a role in the development of neurodegenerative disorders because insulin is a growth factor with neuroprotective properties.
The Scourge of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia – a collective term for brain disorders, which affect memory, thinking, emotion, and behavior. Dementia is the leading cause of disability among the elderly and “A new case of dementia is diagnosed every 4 seconds,” reported the World Health Organization last April.
Aging is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Rarely do people in their 30s, or 40s get the disease as the onset of clinical symptoms is uncommon until a person’s 50s. The risk of the condition doubles every 6 years after the age of 50. The odds of getting Alzheimer’s rapidly increases to the age of 65 to 75, at which time 1% to 5% of people are affected. By age 75, the prevalence in the United States is as high as 15%, and by age 85, analysts estimate that about 35% to 50% of people have the disease. Studies suggest that the prevalence continues to climb, and by their 90s, most older adults show clinical signs of at least early dementia. Because the over-80 population has rapidly grown, analysts estimate that by 2050, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States will increase to 13.8 million.
Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alois Alzheimer first described the condition in 1906 in a 51-year-old woman with well-described features of dementia. The physician examined her brain after death and found it to have numerous plaques and tangles, what we know today as amyloid beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (NFT).
Since their discovery, amyloid beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles have remained the prime suspects in the loss of function and cell death in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Neurofibrillary tangles also called tau protein tangles, are twisted fibers of a protein called tau. In healthy neurons, tau forms part of the microtubule, a structure which helps transport nutrients from one part of the brain cell to another. However, in areas with tangles, the twisted strands of tau disable the supply system so that nutrients can no longer move throughout the brain cells.
A study by Chesser, Pritchard, and Johnson shows that this build-up of neurofibrillary tangles is caused by a failure of the cellular housekeeping process known as autophagy which fails to clear damaged tau fragments.
Amyloid beta plaques found in the brain cells of patients are the other prime suspect in Alzheimer’s disease. These plaques are clusters of sticky proteins called amyloid beta that abnormally build-up outside of brain cells. Small clusters of amyloid beta are thought to block signaling at the synapses and may also trigger chronic inflammation and activate immune system cells that devour disabled cells.
Scientists believe that the accumulation of aggregated amyloid fibrils induces a form of programmed cell death called apoptosis. Researchers have also found that amyloid beta builds up in the mitochondria in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients, and inhibits some enzyme functions and glucose utilization by neurons.
Though most people develop some amyloid beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles as they age, those with Alzheimer’s disease tend to develop far more. The plaques and tangles tend to form in a predictable pattern, starting in areas involved in learning and memory and then spreading to other regions.
Alzheimer’s Disease Treatments
A large part of the scientific community and pharmaceutical industry have focused on finding an effective Alzheimer’s treatment. In addition to the drug being developed by Lancaster University, different groups of researchers have come up with promising potential Alzheimer’s treatments. According to last year’s report by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), there are 100 potential Alzheimer’s treatments in the pipeline, including antibodies that attack beta-amyloid, and therapies that target tau protein tangles.
Some scientists suggest there is no ‘one size fits all’ therapy and that precision treatments for Alzheimer’s disease may be the remedy. Moreover, heeding the maxim that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ one scientist reported that the drug rapamycin greatly delays and nearly prevents Alzheimer’s disease in mice.
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s as current drugs only treat the symptoms and slow them down, at best. The treatment discovered by Lancaster University has only been shown to work in mice. Many drugs work splendidly in lab animals, only to fail later in clinical trials with humans.
This article is featured in the collection of dementia treatment reports of 2017.
Additional Reading on Alzheimer’s
Scientists discover key mechanism in Alzheimer’s disease.
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References / Additional Reading
Video provided by Lancaster University.
Cover Photo: Getty Images/ Slphotography.
Lancaster University. “Diabetes drug ‘significantly reverses memory loss’ in mice with Alzheimer’s” [Press release] via EurekaAlert. Dec 31, 2016. Link.
Jingjing Tai, Weizhen Liu, Yanwei Li, Lin Li, Christian Hölscher. “Neuroprotective effects of a triple GLP-1/GIP/glucagon receptor agonist in the APP/PS1 transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.” Brain Research, Volume 1678, 2018, Pages 64-74, ISSN 0006-8993, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainres.2017.10.012. Link.
Diagnosis, Treatment, and Advice: This article is intended for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for qualified, professional medical advice. The information and opinions provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Consult a qualified and licensed physician for the diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Experimental therapies carry a much higher risk than FDA-approved ones. Call 911, or an equivalent emergency hotline number, for all medical emergencies. As well, consult a licensed, qualified physician before changing your diet, supplement or exercise programs. Photos, Endorsements, & External Links: This article is not intended to endorse organizations, companies, or their products. Links to external websites, mention or depiction of company names or brands, are intended for illustration only and do not constitute endorsements.