In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as many as half of all Americans who are alive today will end their lives in nursing homes, although it won’t be because their bodies cease to function, but because of their brains.
Degeneration of the brain – such as through memory loss, dementia, and loss of brain function – is one of the top causes of death in the U.S., ranked just behind heart disease and cancer by the CDC, and only a few places above diabetes.
A new study suggests that a drug used to treat diabetes shows promise in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Researchers at Boston University of School of Medicine (BUSM) found that Pramlintide, a relatively new drug used to treat both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, reduces the presence of amyloid-beta peptides, an amino acid that is present in higher levels in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s, and essentially toxic to nerve cells. The diabetes drug was also shown to help improve both learning and memory.
The drug is a synthetic version of amylin, a hormone that is released in conjunction with insulin by the pancreas and helps to slow the digestive process, lowering the risk of elevated blood glucose. It is approved for use by both type 1 and type 2 diabetics who use insulin.
In recognizing the link, researchers also found that those with Alzheimer’s had lower levels of amylin in their blood than those without Alzheimer’s, suggesting a new direction for the treatment and diagnosis of the disease.
There are currently more than 5 million people in the United States who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a disease that currently has no available treatment options.
Researchers are excited about the potential of Pramlintide for several reasons.
First, the drug is already on the market so it faces fewer hurdles than drugs that are in early stages of testing. Secondly, the drug’s key ingredients penetrate the brain, a necessary component of any drug used to treat the degenerative brain disease, and something that most drugs can’t do.
“Pramlintide can easily cross the blood/brain barrier and has shown a favorable safety profile for diabetes patients,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Wendy Qiu, associate professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at BUSM.
If clinical trials prove the effect of Pramlintide on Alzheimer’s, Qiu said the drug could be used to treat the disease in as little as three to five years.