Researchers are learning how to improve the use of metformin from epigenetics. Read on to learn all about these groundbreaking results.
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In this article:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Problems with Metformin
- First Diabetes Pharmacoepigenetic Study
- Biomarkers for Metformin
- The Future of Diabetes Management
New Study Alert: Metformin and Epigenetics
Type 2 Diabetes
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes. Of the 34 million Americans who have diabetes, 90-95% of them have type 2 diabetes.
What is type 2 diabetes? It is a potentially serious medical condition where cells develop insulin resistance. Insulin helps bring glucose into cells so that it can be used for energy. This eventually leads to abnormally high levels of blood glucose levels.
Type 2 diabetes may contribute to other serious health issues such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, and vision problems. When patients are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, doctors typically recommend lifestyle changes such as regular exercise and healthy eating.
For many individuals, though, lifestyle changes are not enough to manage type 2 diabetes. These individuals will usually require diabetes medication.
Problems with Metformin
Metformin is usually the first type of drug prescribed to type 2 diabetes patients. It helps treat diabetes in the following ways:
- Reduces the amount of glucose taken from food
- Regulates the amount of sugar the liver releases
- Improves cellular response to insulin
Unfortunately, approximately one-third of patients don’t respond well to metformin, and some may even experience serious side effects. The side effects commonly involve varying degrees of gastrointestinal difficulties such as:
- stomach pain
It can also involve other side effects such as headaches, flushing, discoloration of nails, and muscle pain. These side effects may stop patients from taking the medication.
Complications may arise when patients are not able to manage their type 2 diabetes. That is why it is important to identify which patients will respond favorably to metformin, and which will not benefit from the initial diagnosis.
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First Diabetes Pharmacoepigenetic Study
Researchers have done pharmacoepigenetic studies to predict how cancer patients will respond to different courses of treatment.
What is pharmacoepigenetics? It is an emerging sub-field of epigenetics. Researchers in this field try to identify relevant epigenetic factors that can predict an individual’s response to certain drugs.
To improve the care of type 2 diabetes patients, a group of researchers ran the first diabetes pharmacoepigenetic study that focuses on metformin.
Biomarkers for Metformin
The researchers wanted to predict a patient’s glycemic response and tolerance to metformin. To do this, they examined the DNA methylation patterns in specific sites on the genome.
What is DNA methylation? It is a biological process where methyl groups attach themselves to certain DNA sites. DNA methylation levels regulate gene activity and can switch genes on or off.
They extracted blood from 363 type 2 diabetes patients during their initial diagnosis before taking metformin. After a year of taking metformin, they categorized the patients in terms of the drug’s effects:
- Glycemic responders vs. nonresponders – this grouping refers to the drug’s ability to lower the patient’s glucose levels.
- Metformin tolerant vs. intolerant – this grouping differentiates between patients who experienced side-effects and those who did not.
The researchers used the initial blood samples to analyze to check if there were any group differences in DNA methylation patterns before treatment. Here are some of the essential findings:
- After comparing the DNA methylation patterns between glycemic responders and nonresponders, the researchers saw a significant difference in 11 genome sites.
- After comparing the DNA methylation patterns between metformin tolerant and intolerant participants, the researchers saw a significant difference in 4 genome sites.
- Greater methylation at these sites indicate a higher risk for intolerance or not responding to metformin.
The genome sites with the differences in the DNA methylation may serve as metformin treatment biomarkers. These preliminary results are promising, but researchers need to gather more data to validate their initial findings.
The Future of Diabetes Management
The researchers are already planning to conduct a more extensive study with at least 1,000 patients worldwide. With more studies on the way, the researchers hope to help doctors determine the most appropriate treatment at the onset of the disease.
The more extensive study results may also help develop a more personalized treatment model for type 2 diabetes patients. With more personalized care, patients can get the right treatment in a more timely manner.
As researchers continue to work on pharmacoepigenetic studies, there are already epigenetic applications for healthspan expansion. If you want to learn more about this, visit the TruDiagnostic website.
What excites you most about this new study on metformin and epigenetics? Please share them with us in the comments section below.
- University of Eastern Finland: Metformin for type 2 diabetes patients or not? Researchers now have the answer