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Diabetes Drug May Reduce Dementia Risk

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Today (Wednesday 11 August) researchers in South Korea have suggested that patients with Alzheimer’s disease taking a class of drugs known as gliptins have lower levels of the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein, amyloid, in their brains. They also had better scores on memory and thinking tests years after the beginning of the study compared to those not on the drug or those who didn’t have diabetes. The scientific journal, Neurology, published the results.

Who did the researchers look at?

The researchers looked at people with and without type 2 diabetes. They all had problems with memory and thinking. And all had a build-up of the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein, amyloid in their brains, confirmed through a positive brain scan.

The researchers then looked at three groups of people:

  • Those with diabetes who were receiving the diabetes drugs called DPP-4 inhibitors (gliptins),
  • those with diabetes not taking these pills.
  • and those without diabetes altogether.

What drugs did they look at?

These drugs – DPP-4 inhibitors – are taken orally, and help the body maintain insulin levels. They are commonly available on the NHS and usually prescribed for people with type 2 diabetes.

What did they find?

Those with diabetes taking DPP-4 inhibitors had lower levels of amyloid compared to those with diabetes not on the treatment, and also those without diabetes.

The team also looked at changes in memory and thinking over the two and a half years since the beginning of the study. They found that those taking the DPP-4 inhibitors had a slower decline in memory and thinking compared to those not taking the medication.

What did an Alzheimer’s Research UK expert have to say?

Dr James Connell, Head of Translational Science at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Dementia is the greatest medical challenge of our generation. Nearly one million people in the UK have dementia, and we need to explore all possible treatment approaches to tackle the diseases that cause it.

“In this study, researchers looked at a relatively small number of people with and without type 2 diabetes taking drugs to help control blood glucose levels. While the study found a link between DPP-4 treatment, lower levels of the hallmark protein amyloid in the brain and slower memory and thinking decline, it only shows an association and not a causal relationship.

“Taking existing medications approved for use in certain conditions and exploring whether they may have benefit for people with dementia is an active area of research. The benefits of re-purposing drugs often mean a potential treatment may be cheaper and approved for use in people already."

“Diabetes is an important risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, but we don’t yet fully understand how the two diseases are linked. Alzheimer’s Research UK scientists are also exploring other potential diabetes drugs and whether they could have benefit for those with dementia. Ultimately, we’ll need to see the results of these studies and of large-scale clinical trials to fully understand whether this approach could be beneficial.

“Anyone with any questions about what treatments they are receiving should speak to their doctor.”

Reference: Jeong SH, Kim HR, Kim J, et al. Association of dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitor use and amyloid burden in diabetic patients with AD-related cognitive impairment. Neurology. 2021. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000012534

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