Scientists looking at ways to improve blood flow in diabetics and improve their health

by Barbara Hewitt on December 11, 2017

Scientists are looking at how the relationship between blood flow can affect the health of people with diabetes, particularly their heart, eyes and kidneys.

The study by researchers at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland is investigating the relationship between blood flow and the inner layer of cells in the blood vessel, known as the endothelium, which coordinates virtually all of blood vessels’ function.

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Changes in blood flow can cause blood vessels to contract or relax, grow wider or narrower, or the formation of new blood vessels and happen because blood flow affects the endothelium, which then responds to the mechanical force of flowing blood by triggering one or more of these processes to occur.

The endothelium’s responses are critical to prevent the surrounding tissue from being starved of the oxygen and nutrients it needs but in people with diabetes, this response is impaired, so less blood reaches the tissues, compromising the way that the heart, eyes and kidneys work.

The study by researchers Professor John McCarron and Dr Calum Wilson, of Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, has received funding of £204,947 from the British Heart Foundation.

‘Studying the endothelium with existing microscope technology has been difficult, so we have developed new technology to see the inside of blood vessels,’ said professor McCarron.

‘We have found that blood flow causes the endothelium to release a molecule known as acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is normally thought of as something released from nerves to make muscle contract and it was very unexpected to see that the endothelium could act in the same way,’ he explained.

‘Acetylcholine release from the endothelium causes changes in calcium in cells, which open and widen the arteries, facilitating blood flow. This process is impaired in people with diabetes, and helps explain why blood flow is compromised,’ he pointed out.

The three-year BHF grant will allow the team of researchers to determine exactly how blood flow causes the endothelium to release acetylcholine, produce changes in blood vessel function, and what prevents its effect in diabetes.

They will try to determine if less being released or more broken down after being released and the resulting work could lead to new ways to improve blood flow in people with diabetes.

Diabetes is a major risk factor for developing heart and circulatory disease and James Cant, director of BHF Scotland, believes that the study could provide new insights. ‘Diabetes can double a person’s risk of developing heart and circulatory disease, so we want to find new ways to minimise the damage it can cause,’ he explained.

He added that universities in Scotland have been at the forefront of improving treatment, diagnosis and prevention of cardiovascular disease around the world.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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