Clinical trial for Alzheimer’s to start in UK; diabetes drug Liraglutide put to test

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A clinical trial looking into the effect of a widely used diabetic drug Liraglutide on Alzheimer’s will start off in UK soon recruitment for which is already underway.

Based on a groundbreaking study led by Professor Christian Hölscher at Lancaster University, published in September 2013, the clinical trial will be held between Addenbrooke’s and Fulbourn Hospital and co-ordinated locally by Dr Ben Underwood, from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. Professor Hölscher found during his research that drug Liraglutide might be able to reverse some of the damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease in the later stages of the condition.

This research established that the cure for disease could be present in common treatment for diabetes. The research and breakthrough were so significant that experts claimed that medication for dementia could be available “within years”.

The 2013 research also showed that the drug can pass through the blood-brain barrier and protect brain cells. It may prevent the build-up of toxic plaques on the brain that contribute to symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

The findings of the research were so significant and important that Alzheimer’s Society and other charities in the UK agreed to fund the £5 million trial that will look into the effectiveness of the drug in people with Alzheimer’s disease involving about 200 patients from across the UK.

Dr Paul Edison, Clinical Senior Lecturer at Imperial College London and Consultant Physician at Hammersmith Hospital who is leading the study, said if successful, the drug will make a massive difference to Alzheimer’s patients.

“There is evidence that shows there’s a mechanism in the brain of patients with diabetes which is the same in patients with Alzheimer’s,” he said. “What we are doing in the laboratory was, seeing if we were to use the same treatment used for diabetes and whether it improves the symptoms to treat Alzehimer’s. We saw a significant improvement in memory and there were improvements in brain function.”

The clinical trial will also involve patients from King’s College London, Oxford, Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton and Southhampton, it has been revealed.

Dr Simon Ridley, of the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said “Earlier research in mice has suggested liraglutide may be able to act against Alzheimer’s disease. But positive results from animal studies – a vital first step in research – do not always translate into benefits for people.”

“Clinical trials are crucial to understand whether a treatment could help people with Alzheimer’s disease, so it’s encouraging to see this drug taken forward for human trials”, he added.


Liraglutide – an injectable drug used to treat type 2 diabetes – is a relatively new drug. The drug was developed to stimulate insulin production and based on the 2013 research, scientists believe that the drug could play a key role in activating brain signalling mechanisms which are destroyed when Alzheimer’s takes grip.

In 2013 tests, rodents’ brains showed a 30 per cent reduction in the build-up of destructive toxic plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s. Prof Holscher said: “My research showed it’s potentially very effective and I think we are really on to something.”

“If these clinical trials show positive effects the next stage is a larger study. It could be brought to market in five years, maybe even before that”, he added.