Scientists have determined the anti-diabetic drug metformin can potentially slow the aging process and even prevent the progression of some cancers though a unique molecular mechanism.
Researchers from the University of MontreaI, reporting in the online edition of the journal Aging Cell, said they have found that metformin reduces the production of inflammatory substances — called cytokines — that activate the immune system, but if overproduced can damage tissues, cause premature aging, and promote tumor growth.
“Cells normally secrete these inflammatory cytokines when they need to mount an immune response to infection, but chronic production of these same cytokines can also cause cells to age,” said Gerardo Ferbeyre, M.D., a University of Montreal biochemistry professor who helped lead the research. “Such chronic inflammation can be induced, for example by smoking.
“We were surprised by our finding that metformin could prevent the production of inflammatory cytokines by old cells.”
Dr. Ferbeyre’s team discovered that metformin prevented the synthesis of cytokines at the molecular level in a process that is entirely unrelated to the ways in which metformin controls blood sugar in diabetes.
“We have suspected that metformin acts in different ways on different pathways to cause effects on aging and cancer. Our studies now point to one mechanism,” noted co-researchers Olga Moiseeva and Xavier Deschênes-Simard.
Dr. Ferbeyre called the discovery “an important finding” that suggests the drug “may aid in treatment of some cancers and perhaps slow down the aging process.” But he added that more research is needed before metformin should be used to prevent cancer and age-related conditions.
"It remains that determining the specific targets of metformin would give us an even better opportunity of profit from its beneficial effects,” he said. “That's what we want to figure out next".
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