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Inhaled Insulin May Slow Decline of Cognitive Function in Alzheimer’s Disease

While Study Results Are Promising, Further Testing Is Needed

September 16, 2011

Results of a small “pilot” clinical trial on inhalation of insulin for treatment of Alzheimer's disease (AD) were published online in the Archives of Neurology on September 13 and appeared in reports from a number of media outlets.

Scientists based in Seattle, Washington, gave insulin by nasal spray to 74 adults with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) or mild to intermediate AD and found that it stabilized or improved cognitive function in these individuals, as compared to a decline in function in 30 adults who received a placebo treatment (no insulin). Function was measured primarily by story recall (how well participants recalled a story told to them), and Dementia Severity Rating Scale scores (a multiple choice questionnaire that is completed by caregivers for the participants). A small number of participants were chosen for additional tests, and the individuals taking inhaled insulin were found to have improved brain glucose metabolism and reduced accumulation of beta-amyloid. No severe side effects were reported after four months of treatment. However, some caregivers found that the cognitive improvements declined or disappeared a couple of months after treatment stopped. Previous studies have shown that insulin plays a role in brain function, in addition to its main role regulating body blood sugar levels. In this clinical trial, insulin was delivered directly to the brain through inhalation to avoid serious side effects, like hypoglycemia, that could occur if blood insulin levels were increased. The authors of this pilot study cautioned that, although these results are promising, only a subset of people had improvements in cognitive function, and these disappeared after treatments were stopped. The Alzheimer Research Forum, an online scientific community for Alzheimer's researchers, reported that this technology has been proposed to the National Institute on Aging to fund a larger, 18-month multi-site trial testing similar doses of intranasal insulin in MCI and mild AD patients.

BrightFocus has a strong commitment to this area of research. We support the work of several scientists who are seeking to identify a connection between insulin and Alzheimer's disease. For more information, read the descriptions on our website: Guojun Bu, Ph.D.; Enrico Malito, Ph.D.; Kristine Yaffe, M.D.; Kelly Dineley, Ph.D.

View the original scientific article.

Reports from a selection of media outlets:

  • PBS:”Study Shows Insulin Spray Boosts Memory in Alzheimer's Patients”
  • Medical News Today: “Insulin Via Nasal Spray May Slow Alzheimer's”
  • LA Times: “Insulin may slow Alzheimer's, study finds

View all news updates for Alzheimer's disease


Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is a public service of the BrightFocus Foundation, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional, and is not intended to constitute medical advice. Although we take efforts to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the information on our website reflects the most up-to-date research. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice; all medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy.

Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.

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