Researchers have found that metformin, a drug commonly used to treat Type II diabetes, can help trigger the pathway used to instruct stem cells in the brain to become neural (nerve) cells. Brain stem cells and the neural cells they generate play a role in the repair of the injured or degenerating brain.
“If you could take stem cells that normally reside in our brains and somehow use drugs to recruit them into becoming appropriate neural cell types," Dr. Freda Miller, Senior Scientist at SickKids and Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto, "then you may be able to promote repair and recovery in at least some of the many brain disorders and injuries for which we currently have no treatment."
The hunch turned out to be correct. The researchers found metformin promoted differentiation of human and mouse neural stem cells in culture. In adult mice, metformin was found to increase the development of new neurons in the brain and when mice performed water maze tests, metformin was found to increase their ability to learn and remember.
Because metformin is already a commonly-used drug, clinical trials may not be very far off. “As a next step, we would be interested to see if individuals with acquired brain injury might benefit from taking metformin,” said Miller.
Adapted from the University of Toronto-affiliated Hospital for Sick Children announcement.