Dundee researchers confirm link between ATM, diabetes and metformin


In 2011, researchers at the University of Dundee who were investigating drug response in patients with Type 2 diabetes came across a surprise finding.  They discovered a link between variations in DNA in a region that included the ATM gene, responsible for AT, and how well the commonly used diabetes drug metformin works.  

The team, led by Prof. Ewan Pearson, published their findings in Nature Genetics.  Professor Pearson says: “This was really quite an unexpected finding.  We have known for a long time that the ATM gene is important for preventing cancer, and if faulty causes ataxia-telangiectasia but we had not thought that this gene might be involved in how metformin works”

A link between A-T and an increased risk of diabetes and resistance to the action of insulin is found in most descriptions of the condition.but these reports derive from a few isolated cases described nearly forty years ago.  So Prof. Pearson teamed up with Dr Andrew Exley and Dr John Shneerson of the AT specialist centre at Papworth Hospital, to investigate this further. 

 New study

10 adults with A-T and 10 adults without A-T, who were similar weight and age, were studied using oral glucose tolerance tests.  The results confirm, for the first time, that adults with A-T do have an impaired ability to handle sugar and resistance to the effects of insulin.   This work which was funded by the Anonymous Trust, Dundee, has been shortlisted for the prestigious Nick Hales Young Investigator Award at this year’s Diabetes UK conference.

 Future research

Professor Pearson has now been funded by the Wellcome Trust, as part of ongoing research into how metformin works, to further explore the link between A-T and diabetes, and in particular whether metformin may be a useful treatment for patients with A-T. 

He is keen to study parents of patients with A-T and hopes to start this work in August.  He will be contacting parents in the next few months with the assistance of the A-T Society to seek your support for this exciting work.

We will keep you up to date on progress with this project.

 January 30 2014

Professor  Ewan Pearson

Professor Ewan Pearson


Scientist in lab

Researcher at Dundee University