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Ulster Scientists Get £100k Alzheimer's Research Boost

27 May 2011

Scientists at the University of Ulster are investigating whether a diabetes drug could help treat Alzheimer’s disease, thanks to a £99,221 grant from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity.

The two-year project, which starts this month, will see scientists at Ulster’s Coleraine campus, led by Dr Christian Holscher, explore the effects of a drug called liraglutide (Victoza). The drug is currently used to treat type 2 diabetes, but recent findings by the team at the University suggest it may also be beneficial for Alzheimer’s.

Dr Holscher and his team have already found that in mice, the drug can enhance brain cell growth and protect memory formation, as well as reducing levels of amyloid – a hallmark protein in Alzheimer’s – in the brain. Their results also suggest the drug could protect against inflammation in the brain.

In the latest project, the researchers will work with scientists from the University of Southampton and Imperial College London, pooling their expertise to further test the drug and understand its effects on the brain. It’s hoped that positive results from the project could lead to clinical trials.

Dr Holscher said: "We already know that diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and the results of our early research into this drug have been very encouraging.

"We are very grateful to Alzheimer’s Research UK for this funding, which will enable us to share our knowledge and find out whether liraglutide could in fact benefit people with Alzheimer’s. Dementia is not a normal part of ageing – with research, it can be beaten, and we hope our work will bring us closer to that goal."

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, which currently affects nearly 16,000 people in Northern Ireland alone, and 820,000 people in the UK.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

"This team’s earlier work suggests a need for further investigation to see whether this drug could be helpful in Alzheimer’s, and we are very pleased to be supporting this promising project. It’s vital that we find out more about the links between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, and this research should also tell us much more about those links.

"Research is the only answer to dementia, and projects like this one give us a much better chance of being able to fight the condition."