Published on 17 August 2017

Study finds that treatment for type 2 diabetes could help protect against nerve damage.

A drug used to treat type 2 diabetes has been found to potentially offer help to people with Parkinson’s disease as it could reduce the damage to nerves – one of the main causes of the condition.

In a study recently published in The Lancet, researchers funded by the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research looked at the neuroprotective effects the type 2 diabetes drug exenatide had in people with Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease is a condition in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged over many years and is caused by a loss of nerve cells in part of the brain. Symptoms include involuntary shaking, slow movement and stiff and inflexible muscles

For the study, by researchers from University College London, the Leonard Wolfson Experimental Neuroscience Centre in London and the National Institute of Aging in Baltimore, people were given either an injection of exenatide or a placebo injection.

Researchers then looked at changes to people’s movement ("motor") ability and the results found that people who had taken exenatide had shown a small improvement in their motor scores, while people in the placebo group had got worse.

Researchers said: “Exenatide represents a major new avenue for investigation in Parkinson's disease, and effects on everyday symptoms should be examined in longer-term trials.”

An NHS Behind the Headlines analysis of the study concluded: “This research shows some interesting early findings, though the magnitude of effect was very small compared to the improvements in symptoms with current dopaminergic drugs.

“Overall, this well-designed piece of research indicates that it would be worth carrying out further studies of longer-term outcomes in bigger populations. It could well be the case that a repurposed version of exenatide, or similar GLP-1 agonist, could prove more successful.”

It is estimated that around 127,000 people in the UK have Parkinson's disease the condition, with one in 500 people are affected by the condition.

Most people with Parkinson's start to develop symptoms of the condition over the age of 50, and although there is currently no cure for the condition, treatments are available to help reduce the main symptoms and maintain quality of life for as long as possible.

Read the report in The Lancet
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