Metformin is a popular drug used by type 2 diabetes patients. According to recent interviews conducted by reporters for Medical Xpress, a team of researchers conducted parallel rodent and human studies of radiation brain injuries which revealed that metformin could help with brain repair after injury.
Donald Mabbott is a Senior Scientist in the Mental Health program at the Hospital for Sick Children. He explained that to date, no one has come forward with a program to encourage brain growth or recovery. He is confident that metformin will play a vital role in treating children with brain injuries.
Another scientist involved with research at the Hospital for Sick Children, Freda Miller, explained that their study identifies the potential for deep tissue stem cell therapy to treat brain diseases that currently are not treatable.
About Neural Precursor Cells (NPCs)
Focusing on metformin, the teams searched for evidence that pharmacological stimulation of NPCs can promote brain repair or cognitive recovery.
The researchers studying the rodent cranial radiation model found that metformin improved recovery of NPCs in the dentate gyrus, part of the hippocampal formation that plays a critical role in learning and memory.
However, the results also showed that metformin-induced NPC expansion and functional recovery applies to females but not to males. Functional recovery is a process that improves a person’s performance of daily activities.
Metformin also affects a female’s neurogenesis, the process whereby neurons are formed in the brain beginning when embryos develop. This process continues for life.
There is considerable evidence that the NPC niche is responsible for altering the NPCs. Activation of NPCs is considered to be an excellent therapeutic strategy when repairing the damage to the brain caused by radiation.
Twenty-four survivors of pediatric brain tumors who had been treated with cranial radiation entered a clinical trial consisting of twelve-week cycles of metformin and placebo.
The researchers did not find any safety issues in connection with metformin nor were there any serious adverse events to report. This was a pilot trial. It did not test metformin with respect to brain growth or cognitive recovery.
The research is continuing with a Phase III clinical trial involving pediatric brain tumor survivors who had received cranial radiation therapy. The trials will begin at fourteen hospitals in Australia and Canada.
Hope For The Future
The study presents evidence that stimulating the body’s stem cells is a promising approach for repairing tissue in areas not usually responsive to regeneration.
According to Professor Cindi Morshead at the Donnelly Center, she has witnessed many drug therapies fail after they have entered the clinics with the intent to treat brain tumor survivors.
The fact that metformin has already been FDA approved creates an opportunity for expedited testing and regulatory approval.
Medicine by Design
The study was funded by Medicine By Design, an organization consisting of engineers, clinicians, and scientists who conceive and test programs addressing problems in regenerative medicine.
One of its researchers, Professor Cindi Morshead, was part of the team that used single-cell genomics to map brain development.
There are about forty trillion cells in the human body. Until the advent of single-cell genomics, scientists explored and extracted data from thousands of cells or even millions rather than one cell.
Now that new techniques allow isolation of cells, scientists are able to probe the DNA and RNA within one cell.
Working With Families
Dr. Mabbott said that he has been working with families for twenty years. He describes having to tell parents that the operation was a success but their child will have cognitive disabilities and learning problems due to radiation damage. He has had to explain to some parents that their child may never be able to live independently.
Working with these families caused Dr. Mabbott to look for ways to rein in brain plasticity for repair. Plasticity is the ability to change and adapt.