A new Canadian study on mice suggests that the diabetes drug metformin may spur the growth of new brain cells. This could have benefits for Alzheimer's patients.
The study showed that metformin caused brain cells to divide, producing new cells.
In the new study, researchers found that the drug prompted new cell growth, said study researcher Freda Miller, a stem cell biologist and molecular geneticist at the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute in Toronto.
The new cells that are produced could help to repair the effects of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The concept that new cell growth could repair the brain is also driving research into neural stem cells.
The research on metformin's effects on the brain is still in early stages, and the findings have yet to be shown in people.
Still, the researchers found that new brain cells grew in both living mice and in human brain cell cultures growing in lab dishes. They are now working to set up clinical trials.
A 2008 study found that patients with both diabetes and Alzheimer’s who began taking metformin experienced improvements in their Alzheimer's symptoms after starting on the drug. It was thought that treating the patients' diabetes had effects on the body that helped improve their Alzheimer’s, but the new study suggests the change in brain function was due to the drug itself, the researchers said.
Metformin is currently approved to treat Type 2 diabetes , along with diet and exercise. Studies have suggested the drug has other effects on the body, such as reducing the risk of certain cancers, such as breast cancer or prostate cancer, and regulating metabolism. Experiments with the drug in mice have suggested that it could delay the onset of Huntington's disease, another brain disorder.