Co-Directors of the UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), Professor Perminder Sachdev and Professor Henry Brodaty, have announced their involvement in a $2 million Federal funded clinical trial to test diabetes treatment for dementia.

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

The pioneering study, led by Garvan Institute of Medical Research’s Professor Katherine Samaras, will assess whether metformin, a common type 2 diabetes treatment, can help prevent dementia from developing. Metformin is derived from French lilac and has been used safely to treat type 2 diabetes for 60 years.

Recently, metformin was shown to slow decline in cognition in a small clinical trial.

CHeBA’s Co-Director Professor Perminder Sachdev said the study holds considerable potential to utilise this safe medication for dementia prevention.

“Australia’s dementia statistics are sobering,” said Professor Sachdev. “It is still the second most common underlying cause of death.”

“Midlife obesity is associated with increased risk of cognitive deficits in later life, as is type 2 diabetes mellitus,” said Professor Sachdev.

Studies have shown that diabetes and its precedents of insulin resistance and excess fatty tissue are strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. This has enormous implications in Australia, where we have both a rapidly ageing population and in 2017 74% of people aged 65-84 were overweight or obese.

Fellow CHeBA Co-Director Professor Henry Brodaty said urgent actions were needed to address the epidemic of obesity in order to tackle the burden of dementia for the ageing Australian population.

“This study will conduct a large trial of metformin in participants at risk of dementia and assess their cognitive function over three years,” said Professor Brodaty.

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.

Lead investigator Professor Samaras said the funding would allow promising results from initial studies to be taken to a large-scale clinical trial expected to begin in mid-2020.

“This has the potential to help prevent what is a huge burden to those affected and their families,” said Professor Samaras. “We hope this important study will be life-changing to dementia patients not only in Australia, but worldwide.”

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