No new treatments have been found for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s in the last 15 years. But a research breakthrough now holds new promise. Scientists at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom have found that diabetes drugs might bring about significant reversal of memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients.

The drug, which was developed to treat type 2 diabetes, is called a triple agonist drug because it acts by combining with three growth factors within the body and correct signalling pathways in diabetes patients. In fact, diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimers. Type 2 diabetes patients have impaired insulin production and lower insulin levels have been linked to cerebral degenerative processes. Brains of patients with Alzheimer’s also show insulin desensitisation, which could play a role in the development of neurodegenerative disorders since insulin has neuro-protective properties.

The Lancaster University study used tested of the diabetes drug on transgenic mice that express human mutated genes for Alzheimer’s. The researchers found that mice that were administered the drug showed better learning and memory formation in a maze test. They also had enhanced levels of a brain growth factor which protects nerve cell functioning, reduced the amount of amyloid plaques in the brain linked with Alzheimer’s, reduced both chronic inflammation and oxidative stress and a slower rate of nerve cell loss.

The researchers said that while clinical studies with an older version of the drug type already showed very promising results in people with Alzheimer’s disease or with mood disorders, the new study showed that a novel triple receptor drug shows promise as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s. They also said that more dose-response tests and direct comparisons with other drugs need to be conducted in order to evaluate if this new type of drug is superior to previous ones.

The study was published in the journal Brain Research.