Diabetes Rx May Do Double-Duty for Parkinson’s Disease

Glitazone antidiabetes medications may help prevent Parkinson’s disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Sometimes important scientific discoveries occur secondhand. For Parkinson's disease, that may be exactly the case.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) found that, when diabetes patients consistently took glitazone medications, they were much less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease (PD).

“We often hear about negative side effects associated with medications, but sometimes there can also be unintended beneficial effects,” said senior study author Ian Douglas, PhD, of LSHTM, in a press release.

While past research found that this might be the case for glitazones, this was the first study to confirm these findings in humans.

Vascular neurologist Roger Kurlan, MD, of Overlook Medical Center in Summit, NJ, told dailyRx News, "Parkinson’s disease is not a strongly hereditary condition, so having a strong family history is unusual. It appears to be directly inherited for only about 5 percent of cases. Much research is underway to try to identify individuals who are indeed at increased risk for getting PD."

'Glitazones' is the nickname for a group of drugs that are used to treat type 2 diabetes. Among these drugs are rosiglitazone (Brand name Avandia) and pioglitazone (Actos).

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that causes shaking, rigidity, gait changes and dementia. There currently is no cure.

Dr. Douglas and team followed more than 160,000 diabetes patients from 1999 (when glitazones first became available) until 2013. These patients were divided into two groups.

The patients in the first group were prescribed glitazones, while the patients in the second group were prescribed other anti-diabetes drugs.

The patients on glitazones were found to have a 28 percent lower incidence of developing PD than the other group.

This effect was only present, however, when patients took their medications over the entire course of the study.

According to Dr. Douglas and team, it is not yet known whether glitazones actually slow or prevent PD. It is also not known if patients without diabetes would benefit from these drugs.

“Our findings provide unique evidence that we hope will drive further investigation into potential drug treatments for Parkinson’s disease," Dr. Douglas said. "It’s thought that around one in 500 people are affected by Parkinson’s, and to date no effective treatments have been found to directly tackle the neurodegenerative aspect of the disease.”

This study was published in the July issue of the journal PLOS Medicine.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research funded this research.

Study author Dr. Smeeth disclosed funding from Glaxo-Smith-Kline, which makes the drug Avandia. Dr. Douglas also holds stock in this company.

Review Date: 
July 20, 2015
Last Updated:
July 23, 2015