Researchers have stumbled upon an old drug that might treat Alzheimer’s

One medicine for two conditions?
One medicine for two conditions?
Image: AP Photo/Patrick Sison
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For a group of lab mice suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, it’s a case of an old drug having new tricks—a new development that might one day help humans.

A study published in the journal Brain Research shows that a drug created to treat Type 2 diabetes could slow down and even reverse memory loss when administered to mice with Alzheimer’s. The research was conducted by scientists at Lancaster University in the UK with funding from the Alzheimer’s Society.

There have been several similar cases in medical history, in which a drug created for one condition has a positive implication for another. Raloxifine was originally developed for osteoporosis, but in 2007 it was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in reducing the risk of breast cancer. Thalidomide started as a sleeping pill in the 1950s that had horrific consequences for the babies of pregnant women who were prescribed the medicine to combat morning sickness. By 2006, it was approved to treat a type of bone-marrow cancer.

Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s are more closely linked than may be apparent, as diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and has been linked to the worsening of the disease. And an impaired supply of insulin, the pancreatic hormone that allows your body to use sugar from carbohydrates in food, has been associated with cerebral degeneration.

Because the two conditions are so connected, it makes sense that a drug for one might impact the other. And while current research only reflect results in mice, it could one day lead to the development of treatments for humans. That would be an exciting development in the field of study around Alzheimer’s, which has not seen a new treatment in more than 15 years.

As part of the Lancaster study, the mice were given what’s called a triple-receptor drug, comprised of three peptides—GLP-1, GIP, and Glucagon. The mice, which expressed human-mutated genes that cause Alzheimer’s, experienced enhanced mental acuity and a slowed rate of nerve-cell loss.

“These findings show that novel [triple-receptor drugs] are a promising lead for the design of future treatment strategies in Alzheimer’s disease,” the study says.