“SNIFF,” a Nasal Insulin Study for Alzheimer’s, Now Underway at Georgetown

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WASHINGTON (April 8, 2016) – Georgetown University’s Memory Disorders Program is looking for volunteers to participate in a study to see if insulin, the hormone used to treat diabetes, can improve cognition, memory and daily function in people with mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease.

In the study called SNIFF – the study of nasal insulin in the fight forgetfulness – insulin is delivered via a nasal spray. Short-term clinical trials examining insulin use in Alzheimer’s patients found promising results – lending support for this longer and larger study.

According to the National Institute of Aging, insulin carries out many functions in the brain, and poor insulin and glucose regulation may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s.

“People with Alzheimer’s have reduced insulin levels in the brain, which suggests that treating them with insulin may help restore the hormone and lead to clinical improvements,” explains neurology professor R. Scott Turner, MD, PhD, director of the Georgetown Memory Disorders Program.

Turner’s research from a previous Alzheimer’s clinical trial, showed a surprisingly large number of study participants with undiagnosed glucose intolerance, and a few with undiagnosed diabetes.

“Some have called Alzheimer’s ‘type 3’ diabetes,” says Turner. “The result of the SNIFF study will be critically important to understanding more about the development of this disease and its relationship with diabetes.”

In SNIFF, researchers at Georgetown and other medical centers around the country will study whether intranasal insulin can improve Alzheimer’s symptoms compared with those receiving an inactive nasal spray (placebo). The insulin is taken up and transported directly into the brain by nerve cells that mediate the sense of smell.  About 240 study participants nationwide will be randomly assigned to receive either insulin or placebo for 12 months. Neither patients nor health care providers will know which is being administered until the end of the study. After 12 months, all patients will receive insulin for an additional six months.

Those who qualify for the study must be between the ages of 55 and 85 and have a study partner able to accompany the participant to most visits and answer questions about the participant. Individuals diagnosed with diabetes are excluded. Participants will also undergo MRI and collection of cerebrospinal fluid at the beginning and end of the study. Georgetown study participants must speak English.

The National Institutes of Health is funding the study through the national Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative announced in 2013 by the White House.

Turner reports no personal financial interests related to the study.

To learn more about this study and other Alzheimer’s research underway at Georgetown, contact Carolyn Ward at the Georgetown Memory Disorders Program by calling (202) 784-6671 or by emailing her at cw2@georgetown.edu. Information is also available at memory.georgetown.edu.

About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis — or “care of the whole person.” The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization, which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health.