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18 Jul 2019

Clinical trial to test diabetes treatment for dementia

The Federal Government has awarded Professor Katherine Samaras a prestigious project grant to carry out critical dementia research.

Professor Katherine Samaras, Head of the Clinical Obesity, Nutrition and Adipose Biology lab at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and endocrinologist at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, has been awarded a Boosting Dementia Research Grant worth almost $2 million, announced today by Federal Minister for Health, The Hon. Greg Hunt MP.

Dementia is a debilitating collection of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain, and impacts thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. In Australia, dementia is the second leading cause of death and affects more than 400,000 individuals.

With collaborators from UNSW Sydney, the University of Sydney, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney and the Columbia University Medical Center, Professor Samaras will carry out a pioneering study to assess whether metformin, a common type 2 diabetes treatment, can help prevent dementia from developing.

“This critical funding will allow us to take promising results from initial studies to a large-scale clinical trial, which has the potential to help prevent what is a huge burden to those affected and their families,” says Professor Samaras. “We hope this important study will be life-changing to dementia patients not only in Australia, but worldwide.”

New potential for metformin

The study has significant potential to help slow or stop cognitive decline and structural brain changes in people at risk of dementia.

Metformin has been used safely to treat type 2 diabetes for 60 years. Studies over the last decade have revealed building evidence of metformin’s benefit in cancer, heart disease and weight management and recently, it was shown to slow decline in cognition in a small clinical trial.

The Federally funded study now holds the potential to repurpose this cheap, safe medication for dementia prevention.

With collaborators, Professor Samaras will conduct a large, randomised controlled trial of metformin in participants at risk of dementia and assess their cognitive function over three years.

The study will also measure biomarkers of cognitive symptoms, conduct brain imaging to evaluate changes to the brain structure, connectivity and blood flow, and will assess health-related quality of life, functional independence and mobility, and psychological health.

The research team comprises an international group of experts, including Australia’s leading dementia clinician researchers and experts from metabolism, cardiology, pharmacology and statistics.

The clinical trial is expected to begin in mid-2020.

Fellow Chief Investigators of the funded project are Professor Perminder Sachdev (UNSW Sydney); Professor Maria Fiatarone Singh (University of Sydney); Professor Henry Brodaty (UNSW Sydney); Professor Richard Day (UNSW Sydney); Professor Peter Macdonald (St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney); Associate Professor Wei Wen (UNSW Sydney); Dr Nicole Kochan (UNSW Sydney); Dr Steve Makkar; and Professor Jose Luchsinger (Columbia University Medical Center).