Diabetes drug good for the brain

The drug metformin is usually used to help control Type 2 diabetes, but a new Canadian study shows it can help trigger stem cells to create new brain cells.

Scientists at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children conducted lab-dish experiments on both mouse and human brain stem cells, and tested live mice given the drug for learning and memory skills.

To begin with, they added metformin to stem cells from the brains of mice, and then repeated it on human stem cells generated in the lab. Both cases led to new brain cells being created.

The live mice testing showed that those given the drug daily for two to three weeks outperformed rodents not given the drug in both learning and memory tasks, and they experienced increased brain cell growth.

“If you could take stem cells that normally reside in our brains and somehow use drugs to recruit them into becoming appropriate neural cell types, then you may be able to promote repair and recovery in at least some of the many brain disorders and injuries for which we currently have no treatment,” wrote lead researcher, stem cell biologist and molecular geneticist Freda Miller.

Research began on the drug when they discovered that the pathway targeted by the drug in liver cells also operated in brain cells.

For Alzheimer’s treatment, this could be a big breakthrough, as the ability to have stem cells produce healthy neurons could give people longer, healthier cognition. Metformin has this potential, but because stem cells age and diminish as we age, it’s unclear if there would be enough healthy cells to produce enough neurons to provide therapeutic treatment.

A 2008 study on patients with both diabetes and Alzheimer’s who took the drug found that both disease’s symptoms were reduced once once they started taking it.

Because the drug has been used for decades, and for patients of any age, it has been very well tested over the years and proven to be quite safe, with limited side effects.

This news comes after the news of an FDA approved cancer drug quickly reversing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in mice, another huge step forward in treating the disease. Clinical trials on humans are currently in the works.

As research and understanding about Alzheimer’s continues to grow, the necessary treatments to truly help find a lasting cure are on their way. Treating the plaque, keeping tau from twisting, reducing inflammation and paying close attention to the health of both the brain and the heart are at the root of finding a cure for this debilitating disease. As each of these aspects have a myriad of studies and research happening on a consistent basis, we have more reason than ever to be hopeful that an effective treatment is in the near future.

Sources: National Post, Fox, Cell Stem Cell, Mayo Clinic

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Steve Jacobs

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