An experimental drug designed to treat diabetes could also treat Alzheimer's disease, a new study says.

The drug, (Val8)GLP-1, helps the body control blood sugar levels by stimulating a protein called GLP-1.

Researchers found that the drug was also effective in stimulating cell growth in the hippocampus - a region of brain known to store memories.

Researchers say the drug could be used to treat Alzheimer's along with diabetes and that it easily crossed the blood-brain barrier, something that's difficult to achieve. Also, there were fewer side-effects associated with the drug.

Researchers tested the drug on mice. When the activity of the protein GLP-1 was suppressed, mice did poorly on tests that required memory while activation of this protein by the experimental drug led to higher scores on the same tests.

"It is very encouraging that the experimental drug we tested, (Val8)GLP-1, entered the brain and our work suggests that GLP-1 could be a really important target for boosting memory. While we didn't see benefits on learning and memory in these healthy mice, we are keen to test the drugs in mice with signs of Alzheimer's disease, where we could see real improvements," said Christian Hölscher from the University of Ulster. 

"While we know losing brain cells is a key feature of Alzheimer's, there is a long way to go before we would know whether this drug could benefit people with the disease," says Dr. Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK.

By 2050, it is estimated that the care costs of Alzheimer's and other dementias will soar to $1.1 trillion (in 2012 dollars) in the U.S.

The study was published in the journal Brain Research.