Patients over 50 with early Alzheimer’s recruited for research in Cambridge after study finds drug Liraglutide might reverse some damage caused in later stages of disease.
Men and women with early Alzheimer’s disease are being recruited to a trial for a drug which could be the first treatment to reverse progression of the condition.
Scientists say that if the £5m study is successful, it will herald the most significant breakthrough in the treatment of dementia for more than 30 years.
A landmark study last autumn on mice found that the drug Liraglutide, which is already used in the treatment of diabetes – appeared to reduce the damage caused by dementia and result in memory improvements. Mice with late-stage Alzheimer’s given the drug performed significantly better on an object recognition test and their brains showed a 30 per cent reduction in the build-up of toxic plaques.
The new study, led by Imperial College London, will recruit more than 200 men and women in their 50s, with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, to a year-long trial during which their brains will be scanned and their memory function tested.
If the drug is found to reverse damage to the brain, or to stall disease progression, the drug could be the first treatment to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, and offered more widely within five years, scientists said.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia; it is predicted there will be more than 520,000 people in the UK with the disease in 2015.
Currently there are no drugs on the market for Alzheimer’s disease which can stall or reverse progress of the condition. Treatments on offer can only mask symptoms for a certain period of time.
The new trial by Imperial College London and Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, follows a study led by Lancaster University, which last year found improvements in memory and reductions in amyloid plaques in the brains of mice who were given the drug daily.
The drug works by increasing insulin production, reducing the amount of sugar in the blood and helping food pass more slowly through the stomach.
Previous research has also suggested that insulin may protect the brain and repair damaged neurons.
Dr Paul Edison, Clinical Senior Lecturer at Imperial College London and Consultant Physician at Hammersmith Hospital who is leading the new study, said if successful, the treatment would “dramatically change” the treatment of patients with dementia.
“We’re hoping this will improve their memory function in people and their quality of life and that their memory will improve,” he said. “We’re hoping we will be able to delay the progression of the disease.”
Previous studies have shown that people with diabetes have a much greater risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.
The discovery was made after scientists found a link between Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Patients with diabetes have a far greater risk of the degenerative condition.
Dr Edison said that the brains of patients with diabetes appeared to share some mechanisms with those of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Animal tests in the laboratory found that giving the diabetes drug to patients with dementia led to “a significant improvement in memory” and improvements in brain function, he said.
The multi-centre study will also involve patients from King’s College London, Oxford, Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton and Southhampton.
If the first trials succeed, they will be followed by a study in a larger population, researchers said.
Dr Edison said he hoped the process would be speeded up, because Liraglutide is also shown to be safe and effective as a treatment for diabetes.
However, there is growing concern that Britain’s regulatory processes stand in the way of drugs being “repurposed” for another use. Charities have raised concerns that patients with eye disease have been denied cheap drugs which can prevent blindness because they were licensed as a cancer treatment, and are only licensed for a new purpose if manufacturers seek approval.
Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the latest steps were “encouraging” but said it was too early to say whether the drug would constitute a breakthough treatment for dementia.
He said: ““Earlier research in mice has suggested that liraglutide may be able to act against Alzheimer’s disease, but positive results from animal studies – a vital first step in research – do not always translate into benefits for people. Clinical trials are crucial to understand whether a treatment could help people with Alzheimer’s disease, so it’s encouraging to see this drug taken forward for human trials.”
He said it was vital that a number of different approaches were tested, with more funding needed to deliver the best chance of success in finding a treatment which is capable of stopping the disease in its tracks.
Story courtesy of The Telegraph