A new study claims a drug commonly used to treat diabetes could help patients with Parkinson’s disease. A group of researchers conducted a randomized trial with exenatide, a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes, and found it improved some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

The study, which was conducted by researchers from the University College in London, the Leonard Wolfson Experimental Neuroscience Centre in London, and the National Institute of Aging in Baltimore, was published online Thursday in the medical journal The Lancet.

A new study claims a drug commonly used to treat diabetes could help patients with Parkinson’s disease. Image credit: Medical Daily
A new study claims a drug commonly used to treat diabetes could help patients with Parkinson’s disease. Image credit: Medical Daily

Parkinson’s disease is a type of movement disorder, which occurs when nerve cells in the brain do not produce enough dopamine, according to the National Institutes of Health. The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation estimates that one million Americans live with the condition, while about 60,000 cases are diagnosed each year in the country.

Diabetes drug could help slow down progression of Parkinson’s disease

There is no known cure for the condition, although some drugs contribute to control its symptoms. There are no drugs to halt or slow its progression. The new study, however, found that exenatide seems to improve movement-related issues that come with Parkinson’s disease.

Furthermore, the improvement persisted even when the drug had not been taken for 12 weeks, which suggests exenatide could help to slow down the progression of the disease.

“It is not ready for us to say ‘well, everyone needs to start this drug,’” Thomas Foltynie, professor of neurology at University College London and co-author of the study, told The Guardian. “[But] if we can replicate these findings in a multicenter trial, especially with longer follow-up, then this can change the face of our approach to treating Parkinson’s.”

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative condition. It usually begins around age 60, although some cases start earlier. For instance, famous actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with the disease when he was 30 years old. Notably, the new study was actually funded by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and the Department of Health National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centres.

The disease affects more men than it does women, according to NIH. It is difficult to diagnose the condition, as there is no lab test for it. Doctors have to use the medical history and a neurological examination to diagnose it. The symptoms often begin gradually on one side of the body, and they include trembling and stiffness of the limbs, slowness of movement, and poor balance and coordination.

Randomized trial involved patients taking diabetes drug or a placebo

Recent studies have suggested problems with insulin signaling in the brain could be associated with neurodegenerative disorders, which led some researchers to believe diabetes drugs could be used to treat Parkinson’s disease.

The new study involved the first robust clinical trial of a diabetes drug –exenatide– randomly allocating 60 patients with Parkinson’s in one of two treatments: one in which they received injections of exenatide once a week, and one where they received one placebo weekly.

Image credit: HealthLine
Image credit: HealthLine

At the beginning of the clinical trial and then once every 12 weeks, participants in both control groups were assessed on a disease-severity scale based on their movement abilities, including stiffness of the limbs, tremors, and ability to recover balance. Participants were tested at the start of the day, before they had taken their medication, and after they had taken their medication.

Patients with Parkinson’s who take no medication are expected to drop at least three points on the 132-point disease-severity scale every year. However, the researchers found that after 48 weeks, those who had taken exenatide showed a one-point improvement while patients taking a placebo showed a three-point drop.

Clinical trial showed there’s a 3.5 point advantage in using exenatide

The researchers also found that after 12 weeks of participants not taking the drugs, those who had been taking exenatide were 3.5 points higher on the scale compared to participants taking a placebo, even after controlling for several factors including disease severity.

Overall, the researchers believe their findings suggest that exenatide might not just help mitigate symptoms of the disease, but it could also contribute to slow the progression of Parkinson’s.

“What we have shown is that there is a 3.5 point advantage in using this drug,” said Foltynie. “Now if that is all you get, then that is quite trivial. But if it is a cumulative advantage – so if after two years patients on placebo were six points worse and the exenatide group were stable… then we have actually stopped disease progression and that is of enormous value.”

However, the researchers warned that more research is needed to support their findings, and a larger randomized trial with longer follow-ups could help scientists decide whether exenatide could be used in the future to treat Parkinson’s disease.

David Dexter, the deputy director of research at Parkinson’s UK, said the findings were encouraging.

“The small benefits seen in this study are particularly promising because only a low level of the drug injected actually reached the brain,” Dexter told The Guardian. “This suggests that finding treatments that work in a similar way, but are better able to cross from the bloodstream into the brain, may be even more effective.”

Source: The Guardian