August 10, 2015 | by Sarah Massey
While insulin is commonly used to treat type 1 diabetes, new evidence suggests it could also be a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. New research out of Saint Louis University in association with UW Medicine and the Veteran’s Administration Puget Sound, suggests that when administered through the nasal cavity, insulin can be delivered directly to the brain resulting in improved memory in mice.
According to Dr. William Banks, the principal investigator in the study and a UW professor of internal medicine and geriatrics, "Before this study, there was very little evidence of how insulin gets into the brain and where it goes. We showed that insulin goes to areas where we hoped it would go.”
To test insulin’s effectiveness at improving memory, researchers used a mouse model that develops learning and memory problems during “mouse middle age” (around 8-12 months). Researchers tested the ability of the memory-impaired mice to recognize new objects they were presented with and found that these mice couldn’t distinguish new objects from those they’d seen before.
When these same mice were treated with the intranasal insulin, they were able to recognize objects they had previously been presented with. In addition to these promising results, Banks’ team also showed that insulin delivered high-up in the nasal passage did not enter the blood stream and in turn would not adversely affect blood sugar levels.
It is estimated that 44 million people worldwide are effected by some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers noted that this number is expected to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050.
Though the idea of treating Alzheimer’s intranasally is not a new one - researchers estimate that currently there are at least 800 trials being conducted by the NIH - very few studies are looking at the effects of insulin on cognition. Banks likened potential breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s treatment to the advances made in HIV/AIDS management. Despite the lack of a cure in both cases, HIV/AIDS patients have access to drugs that make the disease manageable as opposed to life-threatening. "If we put similar resources into Alzheimer's disease," he said, "we could be equally effective."
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