Common drug may hold clue to effective treatment for diabetic heart attacks

by Barbara Hewitt on February 10, 2016

People with diabetes can be more prone to cardiovascular disease but now it has been found that a common diabetes drug can be used to aid recovery from a heart attack.

Heart disease is the leading cause of illness in diabetic patients and accounts for more than half of all fatalities but the solution could lie with metformin, a key treatment used to prevent heart disease in diabetics.

Researchers from Newcastle University, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead, and King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia have explored the mechanism behind metformin.


They used stem cells from cord blood and cells from umbilical cord to construct a model simulating a heart attack in a laboratory and found new blood vessel formation that is essential for heart attack recovery while establishing that metformin enhances the physiological process through which new blood vessels form.

The research has shown that lack of oxygen in the presence of high glucose levels, as occurs during a heart attack in people with diabetes, delays blood vessel formation whilst metformin reverses that process.

A further discovery is that metformin affects several new genes important in promoting the growth of new blood vessels.

As not all diabetic patients can take metformin, it is hoped that this research may lead to new drugs as there is now a better understanding of the action of the medication.

“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,” said Dr Jolanta Weaver, senior lecturer in diabetes medicine at Newcastle University.

“Our research is exciting as it has 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,” she explained.

“It is believed that our study is the first report describing the effect of the physiological concentration of metformin as seen in patients. Furthermore, our study concentrated on the time period vital during a heart attack when, with new therapy, we can help patients most,” she added.

Metformin is a cost efficient drug usually used as a first line treatment in type 2 diabetes as it helps to make the body more responsive to insulin. It is hoped that future studies of metformin’s ability to aid heart attack recovery will focus on patient clinical trials.

Grandfather Brian Watson has lived most of his life with diabetes welcomed the research. “Many people with diabetes get worried that their condition puts them at an increased risk of heart disease and a heart attack. This research is offering reassurance that experts are gaining a greater understanding into the treatment options available for diabetic patients so that more lives can be saved in the future,” he said.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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