Proper circulation is important for all people, but those with diabetes are particularly at risk for ischemia (inadequate blood flow to part of the body) and related issues in their extremities. If a patient has high blood glucose levels over a period of years due to uncontrolled or improperly controlled diabetes, plaques may begin to build up in their blood vessels, causing the cells nearby to be unable to get enough nutrients from the blood.
The same high blood sugar can cause damage to the nerve fibers in a patient’s extremities, often causing pain, numbness, and other debilitating symptoms. This condition, known as peripheral neuropathy, often goes hand-in-hand with poor circulation and is worsened by it as well.
Because of these two issues, people with diabetes who do not have adequate control of their blood sugar are prone to a multitude of health problems related to their hands and feet, such as pain, swelling, muscle weakness, cold feeling, loss of balance and coordination, infection, ulcers, and even amputation.
For years, scientists have been looking for a way to prompt the body to sprout new blood vessels from existing ones, thereby aiding in circulation and warding off some of the terrifying issues listed above. Many studies have come up with ways to encourage new blood vessels to grow, but they’ve never done it without complications. The new blood vessels either don’t function properly, grow in a chaotic pattern that is of little use to the body, or have some other issue. Until now.
Researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) have discovered a particular signaling pathway that must be activated in order for the body to create new blood vessels from existing ones. The “distinct steps and signals” that control the process are important to creating the correct patterns and functionality desired for the new vessels to be useful to the body.
“Our research shows that the formation of fully functional blood vessels requires activation of protein kinase Akt by a protein called R-Ras, and this mechanism is necessary for the formation of the hallow structure, or lumen, of a blood vessel,” says associate professor Masanobu Komatsu, Ph.D. “The findings are important because they shed new light on the biological process needed to increase blood flow in ischemic tissues.”
This process, combined with the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) that most previous researchers studied, is believed to be the key to repair tissues damaged by poor circulation.
Knowing this information could enable researchers and doctors to find a way to treat or even cure ischemia, vascular disease associated with diabetes, and other blood flow disorders.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?