08/08/2014 03:27 EDT | Updated 08/08/2014 03:59 EDT

Metformin Diabetes Drug Could Expand Lifespan, Study Finds

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A large-scale study conducted by researchers at Cardiff University says that type 2 diabetes patients live longer than people without the disease thanks to surprising benefits of their medication, metformin, which could be expanded for use in non-diabetics.

Murmurs of metformin's attributes had been circulating within the scientific community, and the findings of the Cardiff study not only build on its benefits but are of particular interest due to the massive sample size of 180,000 participants.

Researchers compared survival rates of type 2 diabetes patients taking metformin, a first-line therapy, with those of patients on a less-prescribed diabetes drug called sulphonylurea, known for undesirable side effects such as weight gain and hypoglycemia.

"What we found was illuminating," said lead author Professor Craig Currie from Cardiff University's School of Medicine.

According to Dr. Currie, patients undergoing metformin treatment exhibited small yet statistically important survival increases by comparison to non-diabetics.

As for those treated with sulphonylureas, their rate of survival was consistently reduced when compared to that of non-diabetics.

"This was true even without any clever statistical manipulation," says Dr. Currie.

Researchers used data from the U.K. Clinical Practice Research Datalink, representing around 10% of the UK population.

They identified 78,241 patients who were prescribed metformin as a first-line therapy and 12,222 patients prescribed a sulphonylurea as a first-line therapy.

Each patient was then compared to a non-diabetic.

Patients with type 2 diabetes are often forced to resort to more aggressive treatment options as their disease progresses, so a long life expectancy is no guarantee, although Dr. Currie plans to concoct a long-term treatment plan for diabetics to circumvent this transition.

Metformin is inexpensive and has exhibited preventative capabilities in the domains of cancer and cardiac disease.

Dr. Currie points out that it can prevent those at risk for diabetes from actually developing the disease and he says his findings indicate that the drug could be beneficial for those with type 1 diabetes.

The study was published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism.

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