Press release

Appetite suppressing hormone could become new dementia drug

Published on 20 May 2024

Scientists at the University of Dundee have identified a fractional part of a hormone that could lead to a new drug treatment for early stage dementia

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Researchers at the University’s School of Medicine have discovered a small part of an appetite suppressing hormone present in everyone, leptin, can have dramatic effects on the brain.

The team, led by Professor Jenni Harvey, are conducting research which shows that treatment using the hormone can stop the development of Alzheimer’s disease, when used in the very early stages of the disease.

Their tests have shown that leptin can reduce the effects of two toxic proteins in the brain called amyloid and tau, which build up and lead to memory loss and development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Leptin has been studied for a number of years but Professor Harvey’s recent work is taking a different approach, in that it is focusing on the therapeutic potential of leptin in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Harvey said, “We’re working at the level of synapses which are the communication points in the brain because synapses are affected early in the disease process, when Alzheimer’s is still reversible.

“Our research shows that leptin could significantly slow, or even stop, the disease developing.

Woman with long dark hair wearing a white lab coat, poised over a microscope and holding the eye piece as if she is about to look through it

“We have found that applying leptin can block the ability of amyloid and tau to interfere with synapses, and memory loss and it can prevent the unwanted effects of these cellular changes.”

The researchers have discovered six amino acid fragments out of the 167 within the hormone, which retain the ability to block negative effects of amyloid and tau in the brain.

This has allowed the team to design a potential drug template using these smaller fragments of leptin.

Professor Harvey said, “A lot of drugs fail because they are unable to cross the blood brain barrier to access the brain.

“That’s why we’re focusing on reducing the size of the leptin molecules to increase the likelihood of crossing the blood brain barrier.”

Dementia drug could be several years away

There are currently 900,000 people in the UK living with dementia and that figure is thought to rise to 1.6 million by 2050.

Professor Harvey says that while the discovery is exciting, it could be several years before new drugs are available for patients.

“Developing drugs is not a quick process, most drugs take around 10 years. Even when one has been developed there are a number of safety checks it has to go through before being issued to patients.”

Professor Harvey’s recent leptin research has been published in Journal of Neurochemistry and can be viewed online and it has been published in a hexamer paper which can also be viewed online


Sheanne Mulholland

Media Relations Officer

+44 (0)1382 385423