SEP 15, 2019 5:00 PM PDT

A Diabetic Drug that Promotes Brain Repair...But it Only Works in Females

WRITTEN BY: Nouran Amin

Gender discrimination in research has long stopped serious advancements. In neuroscience, scientists believed that male brains are straightforward and do not have fluctuating hormones that may complicate data. This misguieded view and decades-long exclusion of female animal models in research did not apply to U of T scientists in which they recently discovered that a female sex hormone is involved in promoting brain repair and opens the door to the development of more effective treatments.

“The thinking was that we’re going to study males because everything you need to know is found in the male brain, and then the female brain just complicates things with hormones,” says Cindi Morshead. “It’s very misguided and troublesome for advancing neurological health.”

The research team of Cindi Morshead—a professor in the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research and Chair, Division of Anatomy at the Department of Surgery, have found that ‘metformin’ the widely prescribed drug to treat diabetes has a role in promoting repair in adult female brains and dependent on the sex hormone estradiol. Findings of the study were published in the journal Science Advances.

“When we first looked at the data, we did not see the benefit of the metformin treatment,” says Morshead. “Then we noticed that adult females tended to do better than the males.”

The research study was based on earlier findings on treatments for childhood brain injury. These studies indicated that the drug metformin can promote brain repair and enhanced motor function in newborn mice with an induced stroke. The chemical makeup of Metformin allows it to activate stem cells in the brain that self-renew and give rise to different types of brain cells replacing those that have been killed by injury.

“You can fix a hole in someone’s brain but if they don’t function better it’s irrelevant to them,” says Morshead, also a professor in U of T’s Institutes of Medical Science and Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering. “To know that there are both age and sex dependent effects —it has such implications for treatment and therapeutics.”

Metformin did not works its magic for brain repair equally—it worked only in adult females. The findings come at a time when data discrimination is now being noticed and scientists are beginning to notice the predominant use of male animals in research.

Learn more about metformin:

In a recent article highlighted in Science, sex discrimination is now believed to have led to failed clinical trials, misdiagnoses and the inappropriate use of therapies for women.

The study was supported through the funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research that issued a mandation in 2016 that allows grant holders to account for sex dependent differences in animal studies.

Source: Science Daily

About the Author
  • Nouran is a scientist, educator, and life-long learner with a passion for making science more communicable. When not busy in the lab isolating blood macrophages, she enjoys writing on various STEM topics.
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