Research suggests that two popular diabetes drugs could prove to be the most powerful treatments for Alzheimer’s disease to hand, raising hopes for a new approach to tackling the condition.

A study carried out by scientists at Lancaster University, published today in the journal Neuropharmacology, showed that Sanofi-Aventis' Lyxumia (lixisenatide) and Novo Nordisk’s Victoza (liraglutide), both GLP-1 receptor agonists, had strong neuro-protective effects in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s.

Mice treated with these drugs had an increase in the number of synapses in their brains, which are essential for communication between neurons and of which there is a marked loss in patients with the disease. Prior lab data has also indicated that liraglutide improves symptoms of Alzheimer's and reduces the amount of amyloid plaques in the brain, an effect currently being studied by researchers at Imperial College London.

The Lancaster study demonstrated that lower doses were just as effective as higher doses, suggesting that those used to treat type II diabetes may be higher than those needed to treat neurodegenerative conditions.

The researchers claim that lixisenatide and liraglutide are more effective than anything currently available for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.

The results, says Christian Holscher, are very exciting, given that there are no drugs available that actually treat the disease, ‘merely’ masking its symptoms for a while. “Lixisenatide and liraglutide offer a real improvement by treating the basis of the disease and, therefore, preventing degeneration,” he said.

Professor Holscher has, alongside other scientists from the University, established the charity Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Trust NorthWest to fund this research. But cash is urgently needed to see ongoing and planned trials through, the results of which “could bring about a transformation in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease in the very near future, as the drugs we are using in our studies have already been licensed for human use and are on the market”, he claims.