Controversial weight loss drugs could be used to treat dementia

Groundbreaking weight loss drugs Wegovy, Ozempic and Mounjaro could be used to treat neurological conditions like dementia, scientists believe. When combined with existing medications, it’s thought the GLP-1 receptor drugs could improve methods of clearing amyloid beta plaques from the brain.

The University of Oxford has begun an investigation into the potential benefits of these weight loss drugs for Alzheimer’s patients. It follows in the footsteps of a 1,840-participant trial set up by the medications’ manufacturer Novo Nordisk, which began in 2021 and is due to take three years to complete.

Amyloid beta, tau and alpha-synuclein proteins occur naturally in the brain and regulate a number of bodily functions. When they become damaged or overly active, they lead to the destruction of neurons and cognitive decline, bringing on conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is the result of a number of changes in the brain’s biology and is therefore a complex condition to rectify. There’s currently no cure, but combining several drugs could be the way forward in fighting it, as different treatments can tackle various elements that contribute to the disease.

Dr Percy Griffin, director of scientific engagement at the Alzheimer's Association, told MailOnline: “Given the mechanisms of action of these kinds of drugs and the biological changes associated with Alzheimer’s, it makes sense to examine if these drugs can slow down the progression of the disease.”

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a condition it’s estimated some 900,000 people in the UK suffer with. This figure is expected to reach 1.6 million by 2040, which is why so much research is being carried out to try and find a cure.

Dementia is characterised by loss of memory; confusion and needing help completing daily tasks; difficulties with language and understanding; and changes in behaviour. By the time these symptoms are investigated, the disease has usually started to progress.

The current treatments on the market are most effective when dementia is diagnosed early, helping to slow down the condition. Living independently with dementia becomes increasingly difficult and some 70 per cent of care home residents have the disease.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Diana Polekhina

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