January 17, 2012

Will Insulin -- Salvation to Diabetics -- Also Play a Role in Alzheimer's Treatment?

Over and over, we‘ve learned this fact: no study carried out according to the strictest scientific standards has yet reported an ability to prevent, retard or reverse the progress of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

While the latest news about insulin is certainly encouraging, the study involved is very small – only 104 people – and therefore doesn’t really change anything. Still, it creates a new hope, and a temporary quickening of the pulse.

Published Monday, September 12, 2011, in the online journal Archives of Neurology and reported the next day in the Los Angeles Times, the study suggests that inhaling a dense mist of insulin through the nose twice a day might slow – or even reverse – the progress of the neurological disorder for patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Scientists have known for years that diabetics carried increased risk of developing AD. And autopsies have shown less evidence of the kind of brain plaque (a feature of AD) in diabetics who carefully controlled their conditions with insulin. It was an easy step to the next question: could insulin itself play a therapeutic role in AD, just as it has with diabetes?

Since those of us with Parkinson's Disease also have an increased risk of dementia and AD, I found this report especially interesting.

Researchers from the Veterans Administration's Puget Sound Health Care System in Washington State tested insulin on people without diabetes who had been diagnosed with mild to moderate cognitive impairment.

Those 104 subjects were divided into three groups: the first inhaled 20mg of insulin twice a day for four months; the second inhaled 40mg twice a day; and the third group inhaled a simple saline solution.

After two months of this treatment, group one (20mg of insulin twice daily) showed improved performance on a memory test. Some gains were still apparent two months after the insulin treatment stopped. Interestingly, subjects in group two (40mg of insulin twice daily) showed no cognitive improvements, and members in group three (saline solution) showed declines.

It appears that the mild improvements were short-lived: just two months after all therapies ceased, caregivers for members in all three groups reported declines in their patients’ daily functions.

Dr. Jacobo Mintzer, an Alzheimer's expert at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, said: "As a clinician, I would not tell my patients to get their hopes up. But as a scientist, I always get very encouraged when the paradigm shifts."

It’s especially encouraging that insulin, a metabolic hormone, is already widely – and safely -- in use for diabetes treatment. It is reasonably affordable, and the nasal delivery system minimizes the risk of affecting blood sugar levels elsewhere in the body that could damage kidneys, eyes, or blood vessels.

Laurie Ryan, a neuropsychologist who studies dementia at the National institute on Aging (which funded this study) said: “A safe, easy delivery system. Those are things we’d love to see for any kind of treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.”

1 comment:

TheJewell said...