Alzheimer’s research has recently included stem cell studies, however new findings may expand options to include a commonly used drug to treat diabetes. It has been found that metformin stimulates brain cells to grow.
Animal studies of stem cell transplantation have shown dramatic results, including studies done by the Burnett College of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Central Florida. Current research introduces new stem cells into aging animals, which have been shown to regenerate brain tissue, “However, ethical and practical issues associated with (Human Stem Cells) compel us to explore alternative strategies,” says the report by UK PubMed Central.
Paving New Pathways
According to Freda Miller, the lead author of the metformin study conducted by the University of Toronto, the drug works by spurring existing stem cells into action instead of creating or transplanting new ones. The report in Medical News Today says:
"Earlier work by Miller's team highlighted a pathway known as aPKC-CBP for its essential role in telling neural stem cells where and when to differentiate into mature neurons. As it happened, others had found before them that the same pathway is important for the metabolic effects of the drug metformin, but in liver cells."
In animal studies, metformin improved neurological response as well as showed a growth in the number of neurons. Research with human brain cells showed similar findings with brain cell repair.
A possible link to improved cognitive function had previously been found in Alzheimer’s patients who were taking metformin. It was thought that this improvement was due to better blood sugar control. These new findings suggest that it may be due to the drug helping the brain repair itself.
Future studies will look at other areas. These include those that have suffered brain injury from radiation treatment for cancer or as a result of brain trauma.