Close Up Of Pills Pouring Out Of A Prescription Medication Bottle; Image credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

The common diabetes drug metformin may be a treatment for atrial fibrillation (Afib), a new study has found. If approved, it would be the first new drug identified to treat this disease of the heart in a decade, according to Cleveland Clinic researchers.

Investigators discovered the drug’s potential in a larger study looking for drugs to repurpose. Genetic sequencing and advanced computation helped to determine that metformin targets 30 genes that are associated with Afib, the investigators wrote in Cell Reports Medicine.

Afib is the most common cause of irregular and rapid heart rhythms (arrhythmia). It can lead to blood clots in the heart and an increased risk of complications including stroke and heart failure.

Past treatments have been directed toward preventing the arrhythmia, with drugs that target the electrical system, including ion channels in the heart. Catheter ablation is also used to isolate the pulmonary veins where initiating beats of atrial fibrillation occur. But these approaches may be limited due to complications and limited success, the researchers noted. 

Advantage of a repurposed drug

Although a new indication for metformin would require testing, the fact that it is already federally approved for use will shave years off the testing time frame, the researchers said.

“We can cut off 10-plus years in the drug development pipeline. We already have the information there. We just have to test it in a very computationally efficient way, such as artificial intelligence technology,” Feixiong Cheng, PhD, said.

The study is connected to a $14.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate new atrial fibrillation treatments using genomic data.

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