Diabetes Drug Works Differently Than Was Previously Thought

By: Sean Patterson - January 8, 2013

For half a century one of the most popular and most-prescribed classes of diabetes drugs has been biguanides, which includes the drug metformin. Metformin helps to keep liver glucose output in check, which, in turn, keeps blood sugar down in type 2 diabetes patients. Until now, however, doctors weren’t exactly sure how metformin, was accomplishing this feat.

“Overall, metformin lowers blood glucose by decreasing liver production of glucose,” said Dr. Morris Birnbaum, a researcher at the Institute for Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism at the University of Pennsylvania. “But we didn’t really know how the drug accomplished that.”

It was suggested in the past that metformin reduces glucose by activating an enzyme called AMPK. However, this hypothesis was shot down in 2010 when researchers found that mice without AMPK in their livers still responded to metformin, suggesting the drug works in a different way.

Birnbaum and his colleagues this week published the results of a new study in the journal Nature. Their research found that metformin antagonizes the action of glucagon, which reduces fasting glucose levels. Metformin was also shown to accumulate AMP in mice, which leads to the blocking of glucagon-dependent glucose output from the liver.

While the new discovery might be seen as an exercise in curiosity, the new study’s findings may lead to new drugs that work similarly to metformin. The study’s authors stated that new drugs could get around metformin’s affect on cell mitochondria, avoiding some of the side effects that go along with the drug.

(Image courtesy Morris Birnbaum, M.D., Ph.D., Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania/Nature)

Sean Patterson

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Sean PattersonSean is a staff writer for WebProNews. Follow Sean on Google+: +Sean Patterson and Twitter: @St_Patt

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  • http://facebook.com tonya

    I can say that Medformin does work. When I started taking it, My feet quit hurting. My feet hurt so, bad I could hardly walk on them. After taking Medformin with in 3 days my feet stop hurting all together.I don’t see any side effects at all from Medformin. Thanks Medformin for helping those of us that needed help.

  • Jeanne

    And does it bother anybody besides me that we have an approved drug that no one knew how it worked? If no one knew how it worked how could you know it caused no damage. And to the person who commented how great it is … I recently spent 5 hours dialyzing a patient because there bicarb levels were low and they were dying from that and it was caused by metformin being used in their diabetes.

  • Matt

    My endocrinologist put me on metformin but i really did not take it that long to see any noticeable results except she prescribed 2 500 mg tablets a day. I could only tolerate one tablet because with two I had very bad stomach cramps and diarrhea.

  • Mike Burns

    Metformin IS great. We know it’s safe through well over a billion man-years of usage. The only caveat being that those in End Stage Renal Failure, like your dialysis patient, can’t use it because of the danger of lactic acidosis. Other than that, metformin is great for what ails you, whether or not you are diabetic. For more information, google metformin + (whatever disease you care to name) and witness how metformin is being shown to be beneficial on any number of conditions. Give it 10 years and your local doctor will catch on.