You don’t want to hear the word ‘accident’ in conjunction with medicine, however that is how a great many medical advances have come about. It’s all thanks to a few key ‘happy accidents’ that we have nitrous oxide, vaccines, and penicillin today. Recently, researchers have stumbled onto a new discovery that may bode well for Alzheimer’s patients—and it may hit the pharmacy shelves sooner rather than later.
Alzheimer’s has proven especially tricky to treat—it’s a multi-faceted illness with many unknowns, and until now there have been no significant developments for more than a decade. That changed when scientists discovered a link between treatment options for Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Specifically, a drug already used for diabetes—referred to as ‘triple receptor agonist’—has been found to successfully treat Alzheimer’s disease in mice, and has shown significant reversal of memory loss. One of the most exciting elements of this discovery is that the drug in question has already been approved for treatment of diabetes in humans, which means that if clinical trials show similar effects in human Alzheimer’s studies, the treatment could be available much faster than a newly developed drug.
Scientists have been looking at the link between Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s for a while, as diabetes is both a risk factor and an accelerant of the disease. Some scientists have even speculated on whether the two conditions may be different stages of the same disease. Insulin protects brain cells, and insulin resistance has been observed in Alzheimer’s patients, so researchers have been interested in exploring whether or not there may be a common treatment between the two. The litmus test in confirming this correlation between memory loss reversal in mice (who have been genetically designed to have Alzheimer’s) is in patient trials.
Right now there are over five million diagnosed cases of Alzheimer’s in the United States, and with few treatment options that number continues to grow. The development of an effective medication that can not only stop patients from worsening, but correct previous damage, would mean tremendous things for those afflicted. Bringing Alzheimer’s patients to a level where they could maintain self-care and live independently is a goal worthy of further exploration. It would mean tremendous things not only for patients, but also family and caregivers. Giving patients back their lives, to any degree, would also go a long way toward mending families.
What is the timeline for this treatment? Right now, researchers don’t know—further animal trials will need to be completed before it is approved to be tested on Alzheimer’s patients. However, the fact that this is a previously approved medication means that human trials may be swiftly forthcoming, and if they are proven to bring similar results the drug could hit the market as an Alzheimer’s treatment before long.