New treatment for Alzheimer’s disease

Insulin, the hormone that keeps the level of sugar in the bloodstream within normal range, could be a potential therapy for Alzheimer’s disease.

Endocrinologists from the University of Buffalo (UB) have found that a low dose of insulin could suppress the expression in the blood of four precursor proteins involved in the development of Alzheimer’s, a brain diseases that, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, causes problems with memory, thinking and behaviour. One of the four proteins shown in the study is a precursor to beta amyloid, the main component of plaques — microscopic clumps of protein that have been considered Alzheimer’s disease hallmark. These findings also demonstrate that the four precursor proteins studied are expressed in peripheral mononuclear cells.

Previous studies have suggested a link between Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes — the latter damages blood vessels and has been recognised as a risk factor for vascular dementia. Earlier work done at UB demonstrated that insulin has a potent and rapid anti-inflammatory effect on peripheral mononuclear cells.

Paresh Dandona, MD, Phd and UB distinguished professor of medicine in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and senior author on the study, said in the press release: “Our data show, for the first time, that the peripheral mononuclear cells express some of the key proteins involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease “¦ Even more importantly, it is likely that insulin has a direct cellular effect on these precursor proteins while also exerting its other anti-inflammatory actions. If this effect of insulin proves, in larger studies, to be systemic, then insulin may well be a potential therapeutic agent in treating Alzheimer’s disease.”

Although promising, the researchers have to further study the way in which insulin can be administered directly into the brain. According to Dandona, a previous preliminary study showed that intranasal delivery of insulin can lead to its entry into the brain and that its administration may improve cognitive functions in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

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