11 September 2013 14:40

A commonly prescribed diabetes drug could reverse memory loss and the build-up of plaques on the brain linked to Alzheimer’s, according to research published in Neuropharmacology.

Results from the Alzheimer’s Society-funded study, led by Professor Christian Hölscher who is now at Lancaster University, show that the drug liraglutide might be able to reverse some of the damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease, even in the later stages of the condition.

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 study demonstrates the drug’s potential to reverse the changes in the brain caused by the condition.

A major clinical trial led by Dr Paul Edison of Imperial College London and partly funded by the Alzheimer’s Society to test the effectiveness of the drug on people with Alzheimer’s disease will begin recruiting patients in the next few weeks.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. The condition is caused by diseases of the brain and 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.

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

“Developing new drugs from scratch can take 20 years and hundreds of millions of pounds. We owe it to the 800,000 people with dementia in the UK to do everything we can to short-circuit the process. Repurposing existing drugs as dementia treatments is an incredibly exciting way of bringing new treatments closer.

“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. We’re now funding a new trial to bring it closer to a position where it can be improving the lives of people with dementia.”