September 26, 2012

Diabetes Drug: Another New Hope for Alzheimer’s?

I often worry about the time I spend on the computer researching and writing this blog. But I just joined my housemates in the rec room, intending to ride my exercise bike and watch TV with them. My housemates were watching one of the endless "amateur hour" talent shows. This one was called The Voice. I had wanted to ride the bike for about 15 minutes, but I had to leave after just five minutes. What mind-numbing crap!

Dementia is another chronic worry. If I am headed in that direction, I'd surely speed up the process if I spent my evenings watching shows like that.

I find internet research on health topics fascinating and mentally stimulating. Maybe it also helps slow down any drift toward dementia. In any event, it's a more enjoyable way to spend an evening. Even with a good TV show, I tend to doze off after 9 pm, which makes it more difficult to sleep later. But the interactive demands of internet research keep me alert for hours.

So many new breakthroughs are happening in medical research! New studies involving the brain are especially fascinating, particularly for someone with Parkinson's, a disease that has certainly been reducing dopamine-generating cells in my brain for years. New findings establish two principles. First, the adult brain continues to grow and develop throughout our lives. Second, brain development in adulthood is shaped mostly by external stimuli. These conclusions suggest we can conduct healthy "workouts" for our brains, just as we do for our bodies.

The exercise bike for my brain includes scanning the online Science Daily's Mind & Brain News. In its  September 14 edition,, I found a report on the promise of a new diabetes drug to treat Alzheimer’s.

Insulin and Brain Health
In this study on mice, scientists at the University of Ulster used an experimental drug called (Val8)GLP-1, which mimics the activity of the natural protein GLP-1 (glucagon-like polypetide-1). This protein helps regulate the body’s response to blood sugar – the reason it has been useful in treating type 2 diabetes.

We’ve known for a long time that type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. Research has shown that insulin plays a role in memory formation. When amyloid structures attach to neurons, the neurotoxins cut off insulin receptors, eventually producing insulin resistance in the brain. Developing diabetes then creates denser amyloid accumulation, making neurons even more insulin resistant. It’s a vicious cycle, in which diabetes and memory impairment develop concurrently, from the same cause.

The University of Ulster study showed that (Val8)GLP-1:
  • crossed the tricky blood-brain barrier without difficulty, 
  • promoted growth of new cells in the brain’s hippocampus region, which plays a key role in consolidating memory, and 
  • appeared to create no side effects at the doses tested. 
Said lead researcher Christian Hölscer:
We are really interested in the potential of diabetes drugs for protecting brain cells from damage and even promoting new brain cells to grow. This could have huge implications for diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, where brain cells are lost. It is very encouraging that the experimental drug we tested, (Val8)GLP-1, entered the brain and our work suggests that GLP-1 could be a really important target for boosting memory.
Of course, the reference to Parkinson’s is heartening to this PWP. Progress on one neurodegenerative condition, like AD, often carries implications for others, like PD.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK offered the standard caveat: "We are pleased… that this experimental diabetes drug could also promote the growth of new brain cells. While we know losing brain cells is a key feature of Alzheimer's, there is a long way to go before we would know whether this drug could benefit people with the disease."

He added, "This research will help us understand the factors that keep nerve cells healthy, knowledge that could hold vital clues to tackling Alzheimer's.”

A Plethora of Alzheimer’s-Diabetes Links
Science Daily has regularly updated new developments in the growing connections between AD and PD. Here are just a few:
This was much more fun and interesting than watching The Voice!

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