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First-Line Diabetes Drug More effective in African-Americans than Whites

Update Date: Jun 12, 2014 02:11 PM EDT

Even though drugs are created specifically for certain diseases, not everyone will respond to the drugs in the same way. In a new study, researchers examined the effectiveness of a first-line diabetes drug on African-American and white patients. They found that metformin helped control African American patients' blood sugar levels more effectively than white patients' levels.

"Metformin is normally the first treatment physicians prescribe for type 2 diabetes, but the standard of care is based on clinical trials where the vast majority of participants were white," said study author, L. Keoki Williams, MD, MPH, of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, MI. "We wanted to examine how the drug performed in an African American population. Our findings suggest that African Americans who have diabetes actually respond better to metformin than whites."

The researchers examined medical and pharmacy records provided by the Henry Ford Health System on 19,673 diabetic people with a composition of 8,783 whites and 7,429 African Americans. The patients were started on metformin between January 1, 1997 and June 2, 2013. The researchers had at least two hemoglobin A1c (HbA1C) blood sugar readings that were taken at least four months apart while the patients were on metformin. The team had to estimate each patient's exposure to metformin and other types of medications.

The team found that for African American patients, the maximum dose of metformin led to a decrease in their HbA1C reading by an absolute value of 0.9 percent. For white patients, metformin only led to a reduction of 0.42 percent.

"When one considers that the goal HbA1c level for individuals being treated for diabetes is less than 7 percent and that the average starting HbA1c level in our patients was around 7.5 percent, these differences in treatment response are clinically important," Williams said according to the press release. "Moreover, since African Americans are more likely to suffer from diabetic complications when compared with white individuals, it is heartening to observe that metformin is likely more effective at controlling blood glucose in the former group."

The study, "Differing Effects of Metformin on Glycemic Control by Race-ethnicity," was published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.  

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