Scientists at Newcastle University believe a drug commonly prescribed for Type 2 diabetes could be routinely taken by Type 1 diabetic patients to slow the development or delay heart disease.
Metformin is an inexpensive treatment that is often used for Type 2 diabetes to lower blood sugar levels by reducing glucose production in the liver.
The drug is not regularly given to patients with Type 1 diabetes. However, for the first time, a clinical trial has revealed metformin can promote a patient's ability to repair their own damaged blood vessels by increasing vascular stem cells.
Heart disease is the leading cause of illness in diabetic patients, accounting for more than half of all fatalities. Metformin may be used to lower Type 1 diabetic patients’ risk of developing this complication.
She believes this new research is a major development in understanding the best ways to further improve treatment in Type 1 diabetes.
Researchers studied a treatment group of 23 people aged 19-64 who had Type 1 diabetes for up to 23 years and had no evidence of heart disease.
Patients were given metformin at a dose they could tolerate, between one to three tablets a day, for eight weeks. Participants were advised to adjust their insulin to keep blood glucose levels safe.
Scientists measured patients' stem cells directly in the blood and also grew stem cells in a test tube, observing how they behaved. Another cell type was also counted to assess damaged blood vessels.
The participants were matched with nine patients within the same age bracket who took standard insulin treatment and 23 healthy non-diabetic people aged 20-64.
Experts found that the stem cells of patients who took metformin were able to promote the repair of the blood vessels and there was an improvement in how vascular stem cells worked.
Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong autoimmune condition that develops when the pancreas does not produce any insulin, causing a person's blood sugar level to become too high. It is estimated around 400,000 people in the UK have the condition.