Scientists make breakthrough in treatment of diabetic heart disease

by Barbara Hewitt on January 16, 2018

The molecule responsible for heart disease in people with diabetes has been identified by scientists amid hopes that it will greatly improve survival chances without sophisticated equipment.

The leading cause of death in diabetics is cardiovascular disease, as the condition leads to the progressive loss of heart muscle cells, accelerating ageing of the heart and increasing the risk of a heart attack.


(By TTL media/

However, the reason for this increased risk was not known so researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand set out to understand the reason with the aim of developing targeted therapies to reduce the risk of heart disease in diabetics.

The world leading study identified the molecule (microRNA-34a) as being responsible for accelerating the ageing of the heart.

The researchers studied blood samples of type 2 diabetics who were otherwise completely healthy and heart tissue from both diabetics and non-diabetics and their results showed significant elevation of the molecule levels in the blood samples.

Importantly, this elevation was observed even in the early stages of the disease and its presence in heart muscle cells confirmed the increased levels of the molecule as coming from the heart.

By therapeutically reducing the microRNA-34a levels in the heart muscle cells, the reseachers found diabetes induced ageing was significantly reduced, thereby improving chances of survival.

Associate professor Rajesh Katare, of the university’s department of physiology, explained that as heart disease in diabetics has such an insidious onset, there is often very little time to diagnose and treat the disease.

‘Cardiologists have, until now, not been able to diagnose diabetic heart disease before it has developed,’ he said but added that this discovery has shown that, by monitoring the level of microRNA-34a in diabetic individuals, doctors can help identify those who are at risk of developing heart disease.

‘This will allow GPs to either prescribe lifestyle modification, or closely monitor those individuals who show changes. Importantly, this can be done without the need for sophisticated equipment,’ he pointed out.

Another key finding of the study was, for the first time, increased microRNA-34a was identified in stem cells isolated from diabetic heart tissue.

Stem cell therapy is considered the next generation drug therapy for those resistant to conventional treatment, but it is ineffective in diabetic individuals due to defective stem cells.

‘In this context, our finding sheds light on the reason behind the poor efficacy of diabetic stem cells,’ Katare added.

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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