Everything has a purpose. At least, that’s what my mom taught me. But, you know that wonderful feeling you get when you realize that something can be used for more than one purpose? It can be almost anything. I spent my entire childhood opening cans of paint with a slotted screwdriver; I didn’t know there was a specially designed tool for that until I was an adult. I still don’t own one; why would I? I have a screwdriver. Speaking of being an adult, I used a fork to beat eggs or cream for years before I could justify buying a balloon whisk.
Pharmaceutical companies and doctors do this multitasking thing all the time. A doctor will prescribe a medication for a condition you don’t have because one of the side effects treats the condition that you do have.
A new study from Japan seems to point to a diabetes medicine helping with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).
IPF is the scarring of the lungs from an unidentifiable source. One theory holds that it could be from inhaled microscopic material that reacts to the lung tissue. Doctors have been unable to find a way to reverse the scarring once it has started. They have, however, found that people with IPF display certain commonalities, such as an increased amount of the protein NOX4 in their lungs.
The Japanese study, published in Respiratory Research, found that Metformin, a widely prescribed diabetes medication, has a roundabout effect on lung scarring. The drug reduces that amount of NOX4 in the lungs, which has a corresponding effect of a decrease in another compound, reactive oxygen species (ROS), and increased activity of yet another component, TGF-β. These reductions and increases seem to result in the lungs’ ability to prevent the spread of scarring.
Authors of this study are hopeful that their research and any trials can be fast tracked because Metformin has already been approved by regulatory commissions all over the world for diabetes, demonstrating that it does not have harmful side effects.
With only two treatments currently approved for IPF, let’s hope that the wishes of the authors come true and people with this horrific disease have another way to treat it.