A team of U.S. and Canadian scientists made an unexpected discovery that could enable vaccine makers to significantly improve the effectiveness of currently approved vaccines. They found in an animal study that the diabetes drug metformin spurred development of immune system memory cells that can ID an infection or respond to vaccines. And that breakthrough could help improve the efficacy of common vaccines as well as a new generation of cancer vaccines in development.
"Our findings were unanticipated, but are potentially extremely important and could revolutionize current strategies for both therapeutic and protective vaccines," said Yongwon Choi of the University of Pennsylvania.
Metformin triggers AMP-activated protein kinase, a key component in energy metabolism that is used in the development of memory T-cells. "When we give metformin, it's like giving the T-cell response a boost," Russell Jones of McGill University in Canada told Reuters.
"Many genes involved in diabetes regulation also play a role in cancer progression," Jones explained in a statement. "There is also a significant body of data suggesting that diabetics are more prone to certain cancers. However, our study is the first to suggest that by targeting the same metabolic pathways that play a role in diabetes, you can alter how well your immune system functions."