For nearly the entire time since its discovery, insulin — and later, insulin analogs — have been the only drug treatment available for type 1 diabetes. That’s changed ever so slightly in recent decades, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving the injectable drug pramlintide (Symlin) in 2005, which can reduce insulin requirements and improve blood glucose control in many people.
But as researchers have learned more about how the disease process and potential complications develop in type 1 diabetes, many have wondered if certain drugs for type 2 diabetes could also help some people with type 1. That’s because over time, many people with type 1 diabetes appear to develop insulin resistance — a hallmark of type 2 diabetes — and need more insulin to have the same effect at lowering their blood glucose. Insulin resistance is also associated with worse metabolic and cardiovascular health.
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In a recent study, researchers investigated whether the popular type 2 diabetes drug metformin could have health benefits in adolescents with type 1 diabetes — a younger population than most similar studies in the past have examined. They found measurable improvements even in this group, after just 3 months of taking the drug.
Presented last week at the Heart in Diabetes CME Conference in Philadelphia, the study involved 48 adolescent participants, about half of whom were randomly assigned to take 2,000 mg of metformin daily for 3 months, as noted in a Healio article on the findings. The remaining group took a placebo (inactive pill).
At the end of the study period, the group taking metformin was found to have reduced body weight and fat mass, along with improved insulin sensitivity. They also showed reduced aortic wall shear stress and pulse wave velocity — two blood vessel measurements that indicate cardiovascular disease risk.
While it’s too early to recommend metformin as a widespread treatment for type 1 diabetes, this study suggests that if its long-term safety can be established, the drug could have benefits starting even at a young age and improve the long-term outlook for cardiovascular disease.
Want to learn more about recent type 1 diabetes research? Read “Kidney Disease Risk in Type 1 Diabetes Tied to Blood Pressure, Glucose Levels,” “Type 1 Diabetes at Early Age May Affect Brain Growth: Study” and “Quarter of People in U.S. With Type 1 Diabetes Ration Insulin.”
A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree in government from Harvard University. He writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.