Metformin, a common drug used to treat diabetes, may one day be used to repair brain injuries, a study by researchers and clinicians from the University of Toronto and the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) has found.
“No one’s actually shown before that you can take a drug where there’s a known mechanism on endogenous stem cells and demonstrate that it’s even possible to induce brain growth and positive recovery,” says Donald Mabbott, program head and senior scientist in the neurosciences and mental kealth program at SickKids and an associate professor of psychology at U of T.
Mabbott is co-author of a study published in Nature Medicine this week. He says metformin is a potential game-changer in terms of how childhood brain injury is treated.
“We’re really moving from a model that says ‘let’s help children manage and compensate for their injury,’ to ‘let’s actually treat the injury itself in an active way by harnessing the brain’s own capacity for repair,’” says Mabbott.
The published research showed that metformin has positive sex-dependent effects on neurogenesis, which is the process of growing neurons in the brain, and cognition in animals, while also demonstrating that it is safe to continue into a Phase 3 clinical trial on humans. The human participants in this study were pediatric brain tumour survivors who had received cranial radiation.
“This study is so novel compared to most studies because it looked at both animal models and human participants. And we found these really consistent and interesting effects in terms of memory and brain recovery,” says