Diabetes drug 'Alzheimer's hope'

Image caption,
The drug metformin helps prevent the formation of a brain abnormality linked to the disease

A common diabetes drug could be redeveloped as a new treatment for Alzheimer's, research has suggested.

Scientists in Dundee have discovered that the drug metformin helps prevent the formation of a key brain abnormality linked to the disease.

Alzheimer's charities said further research was needed to see whether metformin really could help patients.

Because the drug's safety is already proven it could be relatively easy to turn it into an Alzheimer's treatment.

Metformin, which is taken in pill form, belongs to a class of drugs called biguanides that help regulate blood sugar levels. It is widely used by people with Type 2 diabetes and has few side effects.

Experiments on mouse brain cells showed the drug affects the "tau tangles" - filaments of toxic protein that build up in the neurons of Alzheimer's sufferers.

Metformin was shown to activate a natural enzyme that in turn reduced the tangle formation.

The international team of researchers was co-led by Dr Susan Schweiger from the University of Dundee, who wrote about the discovery in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Clinical trials

She said the team's data suggested a "potential beneficial role" of metformin in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease.

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said: "The link between diabetes and dementia is well known, and these early results suggest a need for further investigation to see whether this drug has the potential to be developed as an Alzheimer's treatment.

"However, it is important to note that this study looked at cells from mice, not people.

"We need to see the results of pre-clinical and clinical trials before we'll know if the drug could have any benefits for people with Alzheimer's."

Dr Anne Corbett, from the Alzheimer's Society, said: "Previous research has suggested that metformin reduces the risk of dementia in diabetic people, and this study provides some understanding of why this might be.

"The fact that the drug is safe for humans means it could potentially be tested more quickly than a completely new drug.

"However, further research is needed to fully understand the link between diabetes and Alzheimer's."

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