Drugs developed to treat Alzheimer’s disease could be repurposed to prevent or possibly reverse dangerous blood vessel damage found in type 2 diabetes and obesity, say researchers.

Metabolic syndrome, which includes type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity, can cause stiffened blood vessels. This in turn increases the risk for heart attack and stroke. Scientists believe they may have found the key to these dangerous changes — and a potential target for treatment.

People who suffer from metabolic syndrome begin to overproduce an enzyme called BACE1. This creates a protein called beta amyloid, which is linked to vascular damage and dysfunction. If BACE1 is indeed the culprit behind hardened blood vessels, Alzheimer’s drugs already developed to target that enzyme may help reverse the damage, wrote Paul Meakin, Ph.D., from the University of Leeds, Great Britain.

The idea has potential, said research supervisor Mike Ashford, professor of neuroscience at the University of Dundee, Scotland.

“These findings suggest the exciting possibility whereby existing drugs that have unfortunately shown no benefit in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s Disease, may instead be used to treat vascular disease in this group of people,” he concluded.