Coleraine Researchers Find New Drugs Boost Brain Cell Growth

Scientists in Northern Ireland have found drugs that mimic some of the actions of insulin may encourage the growth of new brain cells. It’s hoped the study, funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, could pave the way for the design of new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers at the University of Ulster’s Coleraine Campus studied the effects of two compounds in mice. These compounds were designed to imitate the effects of a hormone called glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP), which helps cells to release insulin.

It’s known that people with diabetes, who are unable to produce enough insulin or are unable to use insulin properly, have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Previous research has suggested that GIP may also help protect the brain, and the team in Coleraine set out to discover what effect compounds that mimic GIP could have on the brain.

Led by Dr Emilie Faivre – who was supported by a PhD Scholarship award from Alzheimer’s Research UK – the scientists used healthy mice to test two compounds called (Pro3)GIP and D-Ala2GIP. One group of mice was given a single injection of one of the two compounds, or a saline solution, while a second group received daily injections for 30 days. They discovered that for both compounds, daily injections improved communication between brain cells and triggered the growth of new cells in part of the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for memory. The mice also showed a small improvement in some learning and memory tasks.

The results are published in the European Journal of Pharmacology. The scientists now want to further investigate the compounds to find out whether they may be useful as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia.

Dr Faivre said:
“We were excited to see that the compounds we studied appear to have beneficial effects for the brain, but we now need to find out what effect they might have in Alzheimer’s disease. We know that diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and if we can understand exactly how these compounds work in the brain, we could also uncover new clues about the links between these two diseases. We still desperately need an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s, and I hope our results could take us a step closer to that goal.”

Prof Christian Hölscher, who co-authored the study, said:
“Finding ways to protect brain cells and keep them communicating could be an important step forward for fighting Alzheimer’s. More research is needed before these compounds could be tested in people, and the next step will be to investigate what causes them to affect the brain in this way. Dementia can only be defeated through research, and we hope these findings could eventually open the door to new treatments.”

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“These findings could be an important first step towards the development of new treatments for Alzheimer’s, and we now need to see whether drugs like this are able to help people with the disease. There are 16,000 people with dementia in Northern Ireland alone, yet research into the condition is desperately underfunded. It’s vital that we invest in research so that we can build on results like these, giving us a better chance of taking new treatments from the lab to the clinic.”

Image reproduced from http://www.pediatrics.med.ubc.ca

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