Media Release

Newsroom Releases 2017 July Potential breakthrough: can a common diabetes drug slow aneurysm growth?

Wed, 5 Jul 2017
Potential breakthrough: can a common diabetes drug slow aneurysm growth?
Professor Jon Golledge (left) and Dr Joseph Moxon.

A new study by researchers at the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) at James Cook University has found a common diabetes medication could limit the need for surgery in patients suffering from a potentially life threatening aneurysm.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) is a progressive ballooning in a weakened section of the body’s main artery, which increases the risk of arterial rupture and fatal bleeding. It kills approximately 1000 Australians per year, often without warning.

Currently patients with AAA are forced to wait for expensive and invasive surgery as their only option to treat the potentially life threatening condition.

However, in a recent study published in the British Journal of Surgery, AITHM researchers found that AAA growth rates were significantly lower in patients taking Metformin, a commonly prescribed anti-diabetes medication.

“No drugs have been shown to be effective in reducing AAA growth, meaning that patients have to undergo surgery once their aneurysm is considered to be at high risk of rupture,” says study co-author, Dr Joe Moxon.

“We measured AAA growth in patients using CT, or ultrasound scans and found that those on Metformin had significantly slower aneurysm growth rates.”

The results are an important step towards testing a new method of treating patients with AAA.

“The discovery of a drug to slow AAA growth has the potential to reduce the number of people requiring surgery, and improve patient quality of life by lowering anxiety levels associated with a life-threatening condition. With reduced access to specialist care, this has an even greater impact for those in rural and remote locations.

“Currently patients are told that they have an aneurysm growing inside them, however we are unable to do anything to help slow the process. Patients enter a ‘watchful waiting’ process to monitor their aneurysm, which can cause stress and anxiety, which impacts their mental and social wellbeing.

“Discovery of a medicine which effectively slows AAA growth could revolutionise patient management,” Dr Moxon says.

Lead researcher Professor Jon Golledge says further research is required to assess the effect of the drug in non-diabetic patients.

“Consistent previous research findings suggest that diabetes protects against AAA growth. There are a number of suggested reasons for this including the fact the people with diabetes have stiffer arteries which are resistant to the weakening process.

However, recently it has been suggested that this protective effect may actually be due to the medications that patients take to control their blood sugar levels.

“Our data suggest that Metformin may be associated with slower AAA growth, although this is difficult to discern since all patients taking Metformin also have diabetes. We want to see whether our observations of slower AAA growth in patients receiving Metformin reflect a true drug effect or are simply the result of diabetes.  To do this, it’s necessary to conduct a well-designed randomised control trial in AAA patients who do not have diabetes.

“If successful, identifying a drug that slows AAA growth will have profound implications for patients.

“It would be incredibly beneficial to find an inexpensive and accessible drug to provide a proactive treatment option rather than waiting for surgical intervention,” Professor Golledge says.

The study was published in the British Journal of Surgery and undertaken by researchers at the Queensland Research Centre for Peripheral Vascular Disease based at James Cook University.

Contacts

Dr Joseph Moxon

Co-author

0437 490 605