Metformin, a commonly used diabetes drug, could prevent heart attacks among people with diabetes, according to new findings.
People with diabetes are around twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease compared to people without diabetes, and heart disease accounts for more than half of all fatalities among diabetics.
Metformin is first-line treatment for people with type 2 diabetes, helping to lower blood sugar levels. However, not all people with diabetes can take metformin.
This new study – a collaboration between Newcastle University, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead and King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – explored the mechanisms behind metformin, and how it can prevent heart attacks.
The research team simulated a heart attack in a lab using a constructed model. The model was built using stem cells from cord blood and cells from umbilical cord. When metformin was tested on the model, several findings were made.
The researchers found that the formation of new blood vessels is imperative for a patient to recover from a heart attack. A lack of oxygen in the presence of high blood sugar levels – which occurs during a heart attack in diabetes – delays this formatio, but metformin enhances the process.
This is achieved because metformin affects several genes which are important in promoting the growth of new blood vessels.
Lead author Dr. Jolanta Weaver, Newcastle University, said: “The outcome of heart disease interventions in patients with diabetes is much worse in comparison with non-diabetic individuals. As a result there is a demand for improved treatment approaches to enhance the outcomes of those with diabetes in order to increase heart attack survival rates.
“Our research is exciting as it can instantly make a difference to the treatments we are exploring, offering a new approach to heart disease in diabetes and new therapies may now be developed.”
Weaver’s team believe this is the first study to explain how the physiological concentration of metformin works within the body, and hope that their findings lead to new therapies and a new approach to treating heart disease in diabetes.
The findings were published in the journal Cardiovascular Diabetology.

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