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Diabetes Drug Could Help Prevent Air Pollution Deaths

A common, safe and inexpensive drug for type 2 diabetes, metformin, decreases the risk of heart attacks and strokes triggered by particulate matter air pollution. Scott Budinger, MD, explains the study and other ways the drug could be used to protect people at risk of heart attack and stroke.



GR Scott Budinger, MD

"We think that our findings might have implications for the use of metformin beyond just pollution and to the broader group of people that have hearts that are at risk for heart attacks and strokes."

Scott Budinger, MD

  • Chief of Pulmonary and Critical Care in the Department of Medicine

  • Ernest S. Bazley Professor of Airway Diseases

  • Northwestern Medicine pulmonary and critical care physician

Episode Summary

The type of air pollution most associated with death is particulate matter air pollution. It comes from urban sources such as cars and power plants. This is the kind of air pollution Dr. Budinger studies in his lab.

Scott Budinger: “A study that was done as late as last year actually showed that exposure to particles in the most polluted compared to the least polluted American cities was associated with a 7 percent increase in mortality in the medicare population in the United States. So it's still a big problem, but much less of a problem than we used to have in the late '70s."

Metformin is emerging as a wonder drug to be used beyond diabetes. In Dr. Budinger's latest study with Northwestern scientist Navdeep Chandel and University of Chicago’s Gökhan M. Mutlu, metformin was shown to protect mice and human cells against the effects of air pollution exposure.

Scott Budinger: “We fed mice metformin, and as you know, metformin is a diabetes drug and unfortunately there is a pediatric formulation of metformin that's available. We gave mice the same drugs that kids with diabetes are taking in their drinking water. And then we exposed them to levels of pollution that … is similar to what you would have and a bad day in Beijing. And after exposure for three days, eight hours a day, we actually took the mice and we've looked at how much, how susceptible they were to developing a clot in their carotid artery, which will be a model of stroke. And what we found was that if you exposed mice to pollution, they made clots much, much faster than mice that weren't exposed to pollution. And the metformin treated animals were protected against that effect. So they behave just like mice that were not exposed to pollution.”

The next step would be to a test the drug in people who live in areas with high particulate matter air pollution, such as China, and see if metformincan can similarly reduce "risk molecules" that are typically elevated in people that are exposed to pollution. Dr. Budinger also thinks this study could spur more investigations into using metformin in other populations.

Scott Budinger: “We think that our findings might have implications for the use of metformin beyond just pollution and to the broader group of people that have hearts that are at risk for heart attacks and strokes.”

Read more about the study, which was published in Cell Metabolism.


Continuing Medical Education Credit

Physicians who listen to this podcast may claim continuing medical education credit after listening to an episode of this program.

Target Audience

Academic/Research, Multiple specialties

Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this activity, participants will be able to:

  1. Identify the research interests and initiatives of Feinberg faculty.
  2. Discuss new updates in clinical and translational research.
Accreditation Statement

The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide continuing medical education for physicians.

Credit Designation Statement

The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine designates this Enduring Material for a maximum of 0.5 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Disclosure Statement

Scott Budinger, MD, has nothing to disclose. Course director, Robert Rosa, MD, has nothing to disclose. Planning committee member, Erin Spain, has nothing to disclose. Feinberg School of Medicine's CME Leadership and Staff have nothing to disclose: Clara J. Schroedl, MD, Medical Director of CME, Sheryl Corey, Manager of CME, Jennifer Banys, Senior Program Administrator, Allison McCollum, Senior Program Coordinator, and Rhea Alexis Banks, Administrative Assistant 2.

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