Liraglutide is a treatment for type 2 diabetes, that has the potential to relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and may even slow or stop the progression of the disease. AD is a neurological disorder, where the slow death of nerve cells in the brain results in a progressive decline in memory and thinking ability.

How liraglutide works

People with AD have significantly altered brain metabolism compared to a healthy person. This can include changes in glucose metabolism which is controlled by the hormone, insulin. Glucose is essential to cell survival, as it is used to produce energy. Decreased levels of glucose in the brain is common in AD patients and is associated with cell death and memory loss in animal models of AD.

Liraglutide is an analog of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), a hormone that stimulates insulin signaling. The increased insulin signaling is thought to improve the transport of glucose in the brain and potentially reduce nerve cell death (neurodegeneration).

Liraglutide in clinical trials

Liraglutide is currently undergoing clinical trials in patients with AD. A small clinical trial (NCT01469351) in 38 patients, comparing the effect of liraglutide in AD patients compared to a placebo over a six-month period, was completed in 2013. The results, published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, showed potentially promising effects of the drug on glucose metabolism. The placebo group displayed a significant reduction in glucose metabolism across several brain regions, whereas patients treated with liraglutide maintained similar levels seen at the start of the trial. No significant benefit was seen in other measures (such as thinking ability), but this could be due to the short trial period, the small number of patients, and the varied stages of AD.

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase 2 trial, carried out in the U.K. (NCT01843075) is aiming to assess the effect of liraglutide in an estimated 206 patients with mild (early) stage AD over a 12-month period. As primary outcome measures, the trial will assess the hallmarks of AD progression, such as amyloid plaque formation and tau deposits in the brain in patients treated with liraglutide compared to those treated with placebo. The trial is still recruiting participants.

Other information

Liraglutide is currently being marketed under the name Victoza by Novo Nordisk as a treatment for type 2 diabetes. It is administered as an injection.

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