A brand-new study from the Salk Institute may change the way doctors treat their patients. A team of researchers looked at the second-most prescribed diabetes drug, metformin, to see the exact ways it controls blood sugar levels — information that has eluded doctors previously.

In their study, titled "Quantitative In Vivo Proteomics of Metformin Response in Liver Reveals AMPK-Dependent and -Independent Signaling Networks," the research team, led by Benjamin D. Stein, discovered that metformin targets protein kinases that transfer phosphate groups within the body. These can affect function such as blood sugar highs and lows. The drug, in essence, acts an on-off switch so that the kinases it targets performs positive functions rather than negative — including keeping sugar in check.

Previously, researchers believed that the AMPK pathway was the only biological route that was known to be activated by metformin. The researchers believe that it's possible two specific kinases, Protein Kinase D and MAPKAPK2, may be significant in terms of facilitating therapeutic processes and effects. Researchers could determine which AMPK controls play an essential role, meaning Metformin could be applied to additional targets and processes.

This new breakthrough is an extremely hopeful sign that the drug could positively affect more pathways. For patients, this means more treatment possibilities. The researchers think metformin could possibly be used to target new cellular processes; therefore, a great number of patients dealing with other medical issues may benefit. The researchers' next plan of action is to study other pathways metformin may be able to effectively target.

What does this research mean at this time? If you’re a doctor, keep on top of the Salk team's research as it develops, first and foremost. In the meanwhile, it's key for doctors to stress the importance of taking the drug to your current diabetes patients by fully explaining its effectiveness.