Older diabetes drugs may lower dementia risk

An older class of diabetes drugs appeared to lower the risk of developing dementia in a study, suggesting the inexpensive medicines could be researched to help combat the growing societal burden of cognitive decline.

People who took an older class of diabetes drugs known as glitazones, or TZDs, had a 22% lower risk of developing dementia in an observational study published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.

The findings suggest more research could be done on glitazones for dementia, an umbrella term for the impaired ability in some people to remember, say or make decisions. The most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, is a huge target for pharma companies, including Biogen Inc, Roche Holding AG and Eli Lilly & Co, looking to develop therapies.


“Repurposing an existing drug used for another health condition would be a cheaper and quicker way to bring about a new dementia treatment,” James Connell, head of translational science at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said in remarks to the Science Media Centre. But first, there needs to be rigorous clinical trials to see if glitazones can truly help, said Connell, who wasn’t affiliated with the study.

The researchers, led by Jin Zhou of the University of Arizona, drew on electronic health records of almost 600,000 people from the US National Veteran Affairs Health System who had been diagnosed with diabetes in recent decades.

The scientists compared the dementia risk in older people who had been treated with either a glitazone or a type of diabetes drug called sulfonylurea with those who had only received metformin, the first drug generally prescribed to control blood sugar.

Most patients were male, white and more than half were considered obese. They suffered from type 2 diabetes, which is more common in older adults.

Taking glitazones — whose brand names include Actos — was associated with an 11% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and 57% lower risk of vascular dementia compared with just taking metformin.

Type 2 diabetes and dementia have some similar physiological patterns, and glitazones may help reduce dementia in part because of their favourable effect on the body’s vascular system, the researchers said.

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