Parvati Dadwal, Professor Morshead, Neemat Mahmud, Michael Fatt and Ashkan Azimi (photo courtesy Faculty of Medicine)

The diabetes drug that shows promise for treating childhood brain injury

Using Metformin on young mice had dramatic results, researchers say

Researchers in Professor Cindi Morshead’s lab have found that metformin can help activate stem cells to make repairs in the brain in a form of childhood brain injury similar to cerebral palsy.  

The study was published in Stem Cell Reports.

The team reported that Metformin, administered over a period of one week, triggered an expansion in the number of neurons and glial cells in the brains of young mice following injury. (Neurons transmit nerve impulses, while glial cells support the central nervous system.)

The researchers observed the growth in the number of both just two weeks after the Metformin was provided.

“We saw a dramatic increase in the number of neurons and glial cells migrating to the parts of the brain that play a role in motor function including the striatum and the motor cortex,” says Parvati Dadwal, one of the paper’s co-lead authors.  “It was really encouraging to see that just one week of metformin treatment was able to produce a full functional recovery in the animals.”

Though researchers saw benefits in young mice, they didn’t see the same stem cell pool expansion in older animals. Dadwal, who conducted this research as part of her master’s degree in stem cell biology, says the environment in young mice is more plastic compared to adults, making them more responsive to the treatment.

More research into the drug’s effects on cognitive function is underway in Morshead’s lab. Further study is also needed to determine whether Metformin’s benefits extend into adulthood in the brain injury model.

“To me, what’s exciting about this research is that the duration of drug administration was short, the dose small, but the results were compelling,” says co-lead author Neemat Mahmud. “The injury model didn’t require chronic treatment and there was no risk for an overdose.”

The World Health Organization lists Metformin as an essential medicine for adults and children. The drug is proven to be safe and is already used to treat kids with some metabolic conditions. As well, it is an inexpensive drug, which makes it accessible to a wide range of people around the globe.

Because the drug is well studied, known to be safe and already approved for use in people, the team’s findings are already being tested in a clinical trial. A group of scientists at The Hospital for Sick Children is now working to determine whether Metformin will have similar benefits for children with acquired brain injuries.

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