Metformin Could Slow Heart Disease Development in Diabetes Patients

Typically used to treat type 2 diabetes, metformin could slow heart disease development in patients with type 1 diabetes.

A common, inexpensive drug could potentially slow the development of heart disease in patients with type 1 diabetes, a leading cause of fatalities among these patients, a recent study suggests.

“As the outcomes of heart disease is worse in diabetic versus non-diabetic patients, there is a need to identify additional treatment options,” lead researcher Jolanta Weaver, MRCS, FRCP, PhD, CTLHE. “Metformin could routinely be 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.”

Metformin is a glucose-lowering treatment commonly used to treat patients with type 2 diabetes. Previous studies have even found that metformin can reduce the risk of heart disease fatalities in patients with type 2 diabetes.

However, the drug has also shown the ability to promote the repair of damaged blood vessels by increasing vascular stem cells, slowing heart disease development in patients with type 1 diabetes, according to the study published by Cardiovascular Diabetology.

"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,” Dr Weaver said. "We have established the drug increases patients own vascular stem cells, which will help delay or slowdown heart disease.”

There were 23 patients with type 1 diabetes included in the study and, at baseline, the patients had no evidence of heart disease. Participants in the study were matched with 9 patients who received standard treatment and 23 non-diabetic people.

Patients were given tolerable doses of metformin for 8 weeks and were able to adjust their insulin to ensure a safe blood glucose level.

Scientists measured stem cells in the patients’ blood and also grew them in a test tube to determine how they behaved, according to the study. Researchers measured an additional cell type to determine damage to blood vessels.

The patients taking metformin showed an increased repair of blood vessels, and had improved vascular stem cell function. Scientists hope their findings will lead to a larger clinical trial.

“We have shown that all our patients in the study had their insulin doses reduced after taking metformin and have not suffered any serious adverse effect,” Dr Weaver concluded. “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.”