A Common Diabetes Drug Could Help Against Parkinson’s Disease

Type 2 diabetes elevates the risk of Parkinson's, but drugs used to treat diabetes also appear to lower the risk. Daisy Daisy/Shutterstock.com

A new study has provided more evidence suggesting that people suffering from type 2 diabetes are at higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. But it also suggests that a drug commonly use to treat diabetes could be employed to help prevent Parkinson’s.

Reporting in the journal Brain, researchers examined patient records from 100,288 people with type 2 diabetes using the UK's Health Improvement Network database. They found that, though most people with diabetes will not go on to develop Parkinson's, compared to people without diabetes, it does elevate the risk.

However, this was not the case for people being treated with two diabetes treatments, GLP-1 agonists (like exenatide) and DPP4 inhibitors. After an average follow-up time of three years, these patients were less likely to develop Parkinson’s compared to people taking other medications.

“Our study has strengthened evidence that there is a link between type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, although it remains clear that most people with diabetes will not go on to develop Parkinson’s,” co-lead author Professor Tom Foltynie from University College London (UCL), said in a statement.

Exenatide is currently being investigated as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s. An early study showed that people that injected themselves with this diabetes-fighting drug each week for a year performed better in movement tests than those who injected a placebo. The researchers are now looking at moving onto a Phase 3 clinical trial, planning to recruit 200 people for it.

“We have added to evidence that exenatide may help to prevent or treat Parkinson’s disease, hopefully by affecting the course of the disease and not merely reducing symptoms, but we need to progress with our clinical trial before making any recommendations,” Professor Foltynie added.

The current and future work exploring this avenue will be important in prescribing the best drug combination for at-risk people.

“It may be helpful for doctors to consider other risk factors for Parkinson’s disease when prescribing medications for type 2 diabetes, but further research will be needed to confirm clinical implications,” co-lead author Professor Li Wei, also from UCL, explained.

In 2015, 6.2 million people across the world lived with Parkinson’s, which is responsible for just under 120,000 deaths annually.

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