A drug used to treat diabetes could cut the risk of developing dementia by 20 per cent, a study has found. Almost 15,000 people aged over 55 diagnosed with the type 2 form of the disease were given the drug metformin over five years. But when scientists looked back over medical records they found it also reduced the chances of those with diabetes developing dementia.
Metformin, one of the most common diabetes treatments, makes the body more sensitive to insulin, which diabetes sufferers cannot naturally produce.
About 800,000 people in the UK suffer from a form of dementia, with more than half being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Jess Smith of the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK said: ‘Diabetes sufferers are twice as likely to develop dementia than those who don’t have the disease anyway so this is positive news but only time will tell.
‘At the moment it’s still early days and we are not sure exactly how metformin works with regard to dementia.
‘But what is becoming increasingly apparent is the role of insulin in the brain and the way it can regulate the brains behaviour.’
Clinical trials are now underway to establish the use of metformin as a therapy for both dementia and mild cognitive impairment, which is thought could be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.
The study by scientists at non-profit medical group Kaiser Permanante, based in California, presented their findings at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Boston in the US yesterday.
An Alzheimer’s Society spokesman welcomed the research and said: ‘The more we learn about dementia and how it relates to other conditions like diabetes, the more we’re able to explore whether existing drugs can double as dementia treatments.
‘This study suggests that the drug metaformin may be one of the most promising candidates to do just that.
‘One in three people over the age of 65 will develop dementia. Given the huge cost and high profile failures of developing new treatments from scratch, looking at ways to use drugs like this to treat dementia is incredibly important.’
Experts predict dementia sufferers in the UK will rise to 1million in less than ten years and could soar to 1.7 million by 2051.