Suzy Birkett thinks the drug industry has “turned her eyes off the ball” by looking in the wrong direction for treatments for her illness. “Maybe I could have walked between the raindrops of this disease by doing something other than what they suggest,” she says.
“This disease” is advanced breast cancer that has spread from her breast to her bones five years ago.
The mother of two only had a few years to live. She believes her survival is due to the use of an “ old ” drug that sparks huge interest in its potential role in arthritis and dementia and reducing deaths from everything from cancer to heart disease and even Covid-19.
“It won’t cure me, but it might give me more life,” says Suzy, 51. The drug in question is metformin, which can cost as little as 3 cents per tablet.
It has been used by millions of people with type 2 diabetes since the 1950s to lower the level of glucose in their blood, but it now shows an effect in strengthening the immune system and reducing inflammation associated with a range of other diseases.
The drug in question is metformin, which can cost only 3 p per tablet. It has been used by millions of people with type 2 diabetes since 1950
It is the focus of an upcoming five-year, £ 33 million American study to see if it can extend a healthy life. It also caused a surge of excitement after doctors in Wuhan, the center of the Chinese coronavirus epidemic, revealed earlier this month that the mortality rate among Covid-19 patients taking the drug for their diabetes was significantly lower than in a similar group of patients who did not taking.
Between January and March, the researchers analyzed data from 104 patients on metformin who had been hospitalized for severe Covid-19 infection, and compared the health data from 179 patients with the same disease severity, age and sex.
Only three of the metformin users died, compared to 22 of those who did not use this drug. Similar preliminary results were seen in another study from the University of Minnesota in the United States involving more than 6,000 obese diabetic patients (mean age 75) with Covid-19.
Meanwhile, research to be published soon by Imperial College London has shown that mice developed to develop atherosclerosis (arteriosclerosis) have experienced a reversal of the condition after getting metformin in their drinking water.
Joseph Boyle, a clinical reader in molecular cardiovascular pathology, who led the project, hoped the results would spur a large-scale study. In diabetes, in addition to reducing the amount of sugar released into the blood by the liver, metformin improves the body’s response to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar.
It is increasingly suggested that it has a wide variety of other effects that are not fully understood. It seems to dampen inflammation, which is involved in all disease processes, including atherosclerosis and dementia. Cancer is thought to reduce the supply of sugar to cancer cells, preventing their growth.
It also dampens the rate of respiratory activity and energy production of the mitochondria, the ‘batteries’ in cells – this may be a key factor in metformin’s potential anti-aging properties. “Mitochondrial activity is critical in aging, and if you can reject mitochondrial metabolism, you can extend lifespan,” said Michael Lisanti, a professor of translational medicine at Salford University, who has studied the drug.
“Metformin reduces the rate of mitochondrial metabolism, and we think that mitochondrial inhibitors will be very helpful in treating anti-aging drugs.” For Suzy, who lives with her partner and children Tilly (16) and Louis (14) in Exmouth, Devon, there is no doubt that the drug changes lives.
In 2009, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy while removing the lymph nodes in her armpits. Five years later, the cancer reappeared in her ribs, back, and pelvis. “I’m made of metal from the waist down; my hips collapsed, “she says.
It’s the focus of an upcoming five-year £ 33 million study in the U.S. to see if it can extend a healthy life
When told that she had only two to three years to live, she started researching online treatments and came across metformin. Suzy, who worked as a civil servant until three years ago, approached her doctor, but she did not want to prescribe metformin.
“It’s a very powerful treatment, but it’s slow to catch on,” says Suzy. “Who is going to pay big trials for regulatory approval if there is no profit in the end? Metformin is dirt cheap. ‘
She took part in a trial at the private Care Oncology Clinic in London, where she was given three other ‘non-cancer’ drugs, as well as metformin and her conventional chemotherapy. “I thought,” What have I got to lose? There is only one way to do this. “The disease was really spread. ‘
An article from doctors at the clinic said metformin has been shown to improve the effectiveness of conventional cancer drugs and interfere with cancer cell signals. The article, published in the journal Frontiers In Pharmacology, showed that survival rates for patients with brain cancer (glioblastoma) were twice as high in this regimen as in the UK and Europe.
“There have been long periods when the disease has been stable, and I think it’s because of conventional medications in addition to the repurposed drugs,” says Suzy. Her cancer specialist has told her that her tumor ‘markers’ (in her blood) have ‘almost become normal’.
There is increasing evidence that the drug can help other conditions. A large study of 78,000 diabetes patients with metformin in 2014 led by Christian Bannister, a statistics researcher at Cardiff University, found that they lived longer than those who used other types of diabetes medications – and that they lived an average of 15 percent longer than 90,000 matched controls. did not have diabetes.
That study and other similar work has spawned a massive project in the U.S. called TAME (Treating Aging with Metformin), which will monitor 3,500 people ages 65 to 80 who are being treated for cancer, heart disease and dementia for five years.
They receive metformin in addition to standard treatment for their condition. The researchers, led by Nir Barzilai, scientific director of the American Federation For Aging Research, have invested £ 33 million in the government and private sector to conduct the world’s largest metformin trial. “We don’t focus on a specific disease, but on aging itself,” said Dr. Barzilai to Good Health.
“There are a number of studies that show that if you give metformin to animals, they live longer.” Studies have also shown lower rates of Parkinson’s disease and dementia in people with diabetes who use metformin. “The trials have been small so far and the results have been mixed,” said an Alzheimer’s Society spokesperson.
Other specialists are cautiously optimistic. “I think it has many benefits in old age diseases – cancer, heart disease and diabetes,” said Professor Lisanti. “It’s good for people to start looking at it,” adding that like other drugs, it’s not without risks.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
The Jam’s Bruce Foxton, 64, answers our health quiz …
Can you run up the stairs?
The Jam’s Bruce Foxton, 64, answers our health quiz …
I am quite fit. I walk a lot with my golden retriever, Freddie, especially since it closed. I once joined a gym but have since quit. I do a few exercises at home that seem sufficient to me. I also play golf. I move a lot on stage and treat it like a workout. But I blow and blow a little.
Do you get five a day?
There are many more vegetables and fish on the menu when I’m not touring.
I took vitamin D in the past year because a routine blood test showed I was a little low. I also take a Berocca [B vitamins] to maintain mental acuity.
No, I’m going after my dad. I can eat just about what I want and not gain weight. I am 10th and 5ft 8in.
I like a beer or a glass of rosé with a meal. Our guitarist Russ was a chocoholic, so it was in our terms that chocolate should be backstage.
Ever undergo cosmetic surgery?
I would consider it. I have not done anything so far.
Most serious illness?
I removed cataracts from both eyes last summer. I now have a great long-range vision, but it ruined my close vision, so I got reading glasses.
I had a bad chance of losing family because of cancer. I lost my first wife Pat to breast cancer in 2009 and my mom, dad and oldest brother to various forms of the disease.
Have you ever been depressed?
I’ve had my moments. Even with The Jam, there were ups and downs. We are about to get a record deal and then someone says no at the last hurdle. You just have to believe in yourself and keep going.
Yes, but I wouldn’t want to leave my wife, Kate, so I wish she’d live forever, too.
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Interview: ROZ LEWIS