Diabetes drugs could soon be used to treat a form of dementia after insulin was found to protect parts of the brain.
A study, by researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois, US, and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, found that insulin may slow or prevent the memory loss caused by toxic proteins which attack the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.
Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas to help control levels of sugar in the blood. Diabetes sufferers either fail to produce insulin, do not produce enough or fail to use what they do produce effectively.
The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, supports previously-published theories that the disease could be due to a type of brain diabetes.
The team carried out a study that involved treating neurons taken from one of the brain’s memory centres – the hippocampus – with insulin and the diabetes drug rosiglitazone.
Hippocampus cells are susceptible to damage caused by amyloid beta-derived diffusible ligands (ADDLs), toxic proteins that build up in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers discovered that insulin stopped ADDLs from attaching to the cells and prevented damage to neurons.
According to the study, the insulin-sensitising drug rosiglitazone also enhanced protection by low levels of insulin.
Copyright Press Association 2009