Metformin, the commonly used diabetes drug, could be effective in slowing down heart disease in people with type 1 diabetes, research has shown.
The inexpensive medication is frequently used to lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes patients, but Newcastle University researchers now think it could also have other benefits.
Dr Jolanta Weaver, senior lecturer in diabetes medicine at Newcastle University and honorary consultant diabetologist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead, led the research.
She said: “As the outcomes of heart disease are worse in diabetic versus non-diabetic patients, there is a need to identify additional treatment options. Metformin could be routinely used by patients with type 1 diabetes to help lower their chances of developing heart disease, by increasing a repair mechanism created by vascular stem cells released from the bone marrow.”
Heart disease is the leading cause of illness in people with diabetes and accounts for more than half of all fatalities.
The findings of this clinical trial, which have been published in the Cardiovascular Diabetology journal, are a major development in understanding the best way to improve type 1 diabetes treatment, the researchers said.
The trial involved a group of 23 people aged between 19 and 64 who had lived with type 1 diabetes for up to 23 years and had no evidence of heart disease.
Each participant was given up to three tablets of metformin for eight weeks. Their stem cells were measured directly in the blood and researchers grew test tube stem cells, to observe how they behaved.
Within the same age bracket of the other participants, nine further people were asked to take standard insulin treatment.
The findings showed blood vessels repaired and there was an improvement in how vascular stem cells worked in the metformin group.
Dr Weaver added: “Our research is an exciting step forward as it may have positive clinical implications for patients with increased risk of cardiovascular disease by improving their treatment options.
“For the first time, this study has shown metformin has additional benefit beyond improving diabetes control when given to patients with relatively well-controlled type 1 diabetes. We have established the drug increases patients own vascular stem cells, which will help delay or slow down heart disease.”
The researchers noted that all patients had their insulin doses reduced after taking metformin and did not suffer any serious adverse effect.
“Patients with type 1 diabetes may wish to consider discussing with their GP the possibility of adding metformin, even at a very low dose, to the insulin that they are taking. However, care needs to be taken to adjust insulin dose to prevent too low glucose levels,” concluded Weaver.