Does a drug that could treat Alzheimer’s already exist? A new study suggests that people with Alzheimer’s given a diabetes drug had fewer signs of the disease in the brain than those who were not on the drug.
Alzheimer’s has no cure or treatment that has been shown to reverse or stop its progression. But many doctors have equated Alzheimer’s to diabetes, suggesting that Alzheimer’s is actually caused by a problem processing glucose, even going so far as to call it Type 3 diabetes. The brain runs on glucose, using it as its main energy source. But too much of it can cause memory problems and speed up cell aging. Glucose regulation in the brain naturally worsens with age, and past studies have shown that brains that were not as efficient at breaking down glucose had more beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles, two biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease, than brains that were able to break down glucose.
So scientists from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York decided to study the effects of diabetes drugs in Alzheimer’s patients. Two previous studies showed that those with diabetes and Alzheimer’s had fewer Alzheimer’s markers of the disease than those with just Alzheimer’s, even though diabetes has been shown to have many of the same effects as Alzheimer’s in the brain. Scientists hypothesized that the drugs the patients with diabetes were taking may have had a protective effect.
This study took the examination one step further: They looked at the brain tissue of people with diabetes and Alzheimer’s who were on diabetes drugs in comparison to those with Alzheimer’s but not diabetes and also those without either disease.
They found those taking the medicine had few blood vessel abnormalities and gene activity abnormalities in their brains.
“The results of this study are important because they give us new insights for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” said the study’s senior author, Vahram Haroutunian, Ph.D., a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
The study authors stress that the results don’t indicate that those without diabetes should start taking insulin medicines. But it does open a window to continue to research how glucose and Alzheimer’s might be connected.
“Most modern Alzheimer’s treatments target amyloid plaques and haven’t succeeded in effectively treating the disease,” said Haroutunian. “Insulin and diabetes medications such as metformin are FDA approved and safely administered to millions of people and appear to have a beneficial effect on people with Alzheimer’s. This opens opportunities to conduct research trials on people using similar drugs or on drugs that have similar effects on the brains’ biological pathways and cell types identified in this study.”