Developing new treatments for ailments can be a tedious and frustrating process for scientists. Oftentimes, newly developed drugs just don’t work the way they were intended, falling short of expectations and leading to a dead end. But other times, a drug developed for one purpose turns out to be even more effective at treating something completely different. That appears to be exactly what is happening with a new class of drug originally developed for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, but has recently been shown to have a drastic benefit in mice with Alzheimer’s.
The new drugs, which are classified as “triple agonist” (because they work in three ways), were tested on mice which were developed to express genes linked to Alzheimer’s. The animals were already exhibiting many of the symptoms associated with the disease, including compromised memory and difficulty learning, but showed dramatic improvement in their brain function after receiving the unique treatment.
The treatment “holds clear promise of being developed into a new treatment for chronic neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease,” Professor Christian Holscher, lead researcher of the study, explains. The research was published in Brain Research.
According to the study, the triple-acting treatment is thought to work against Alzheimer’s disease by protecting nerve cells, reducing amyloid plaques in the brain (which have been linked to Alzheimer’s), and reducing inflammation while slowing nerve cell degradation. Mice that received treatment demonstrated significant improvement in learning as well as memory formation.
Discovering a potential new treatment for a devastating disease like Alzheimer’s is fantastic news, but the fact that the drug was initially intended to treat type 2 diabetes isn’t just a coincidence. Type 2 diabetes has been linked to Alzheimer’s in the past, and the two often go hand-in-hand in older individuals. “Insulin desensitisation has also been observed in the Alzheimer’s disease brain,” the researchers explain in a press release. “The desensitisation could play a role in the development of neurodegenerative disorders as insulin is a growth factor with neuroprotective properties.”
The treatment has not yet been approved for Alzheimer’s patients, and has only been demonstrated in these early trials with mice. Further research is most certainly warranted, and if we’re lucky, we might actually have a go-to solution for the disease sooner rather than later.