A new study has determined that Alzheimer’s patients taking diabetes drugs may have fewer signs of dementia in their brains than similar patients not taking the drugs.
“The results of this study are important because they give us new insights for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” said study senior author, Vahram Haroutunian, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
Earlier studies on brain tissue showed that the brains of people who had Alzheimer’s and diabetes had fewer Alzheimer’s lesions than brains of people with Alzheimer’s with no diabetes.
In particular, the new study highlights the relationship between cardiovascular and brain health. An assistant professor at the Litwin-Zucker Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders said the findings remind us of how important it is to keep vascular risk factors under control as we age.
Researchers studied the brains of 34 people who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes treated with standard diabetes drugs. They then compared those findings to an examination of 30 brains from people with Alzheimer’s who did not have diabetes, and 19 brains of people who had experienced neither disease.
The study focused on changes in certain genetic “markers” tied closely to proper brain signaling.
According to the researchers, levels of about half of these markers were lower in the vessels and brain tissue of patients who had both Alzheimer’s and diabetes. And the majority of the unhealthy genetic changes that are usually seen in Alzheimer’s were missing in patients who had taken diabetes drugs.
This all suggests that diabetes medications may have a protective effect on the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, which in turn might improve the search for effective therapies.
The new study focused on insulin and diabetes medications such as metformin, which are FDA-approved and safely administered to millions of people. These drugs may have a beneficial effect on people with Alzheimer’s, opening 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.