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Jan 09, 2015 12:06 AM EST

Human-Made Insulin May Improve Memory in Adults With Alzheimer's Dementia

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A human-made form of insulin may improve working memory in adults with Alzheimer's dementia, according to a recent study.

According to a pilot study led by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, insulin detemir, a manufactured form of the hormone, delivered by nasal spray may improve working memory and other mental capabilities in adults with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease dementia.

The study's subjects were 60 adults diagnosed with amnesic mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or mild to moderate Alzheimer's dementia (AD). Those who received nasally-administered 40 international unit (IU) doses of insulin detemir for 21 days showed significant improvement in their short-term ability to retain and process verbal and visual information compared with those who received 20 IU does or a placebo.

Additionally, the recipients of 40 IU doses carrying the APOE-e4 gene -- which is known to increase the risk for Alzheimer's -- recorded significantly higher memory scores than those who received the loser dosage or placebo, while non-carriers across all three groups posted significantly lower scores.

Previous trials had shown promising effects of nasally-administered insulin for adults with AD and MCI, but this study was the first to use insulin detemir, whose effects are longer-lasting than those of "regular" insulin.

"The study provides preliminary evidence that insulin detemir can provide effective treatment for people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's-related dementia similar to our previous work with regular insulin," said Suzanne Craft, lead author of the study. "We are also especially encouraged that we were able to improve memory for adults with MCI who have the APOE-e4 gene, as these patients are notoriously resistant to other therapies and interventions."

The study's overall results support further investigation of the therapeutic value of insulin detemir as a treatment for Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases, Craft said.

"Alzheimer's is a devastating illness, for which even small therapeutic gains have the potential to improve quality of life and significantly reduce the overall burden for patients, families and society," Craft said. "Future studies are warranted to examine the safety and efficacy of this promising treatment."

The findings are published online in advance of the February issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

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