Researchers Uncover New Method to Confront Heart Disease in Type 2 Diabetes Patients

Heart disease is a big risk for people with type 2 diabetes, but a research team believes they may have discovered the key to tackling it before it gets out of hand.

A team from the University of Alberta says heart failure can be prevented in people with type 2 diabetes. Their study was published in the journal Cell Reports.

“We know people with diabetes take drugs for years to control their blood sugars, but the drugs don’t cure their diabetes,” says lead author John Ussher, associate professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “The majority eventually die not from high blood sugar, but from heart disease.”

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The team explains that people with type 2 diabetes have a defect that prevents the heart from burning carbohydrates as a fuel source. This eventually leads to diastolic heart failure, a condition in which the heart cannot relax properly in between pumps.

“This is devastating for the individuals and a major burden on the healthcare system,” Ussher says. “There are no approved therapies that can reverse this type of heart failure, which is why it’s very important to try to develop treatments.”

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Ussher and his colleagues have used a combination of genetic alterations and drug therapies to demonstrate how diastolic heart failure can be prevented in animal models. Their treatment works by blocking the action of the protein Fox01.

“Our research demonstrated that if you can fix the heart’s ability to burn sugar for fuel, then the heart can relax better and not get this form of heart failure in the presence of diabetes,” says Ussher.

Next, Ussher and his team will work to understand the mechanisms behind the experimental drug they used to block the Fox01 protein. They hope to improve upon it so that it can be tested in humans with minimal side effects.

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The team’s goal is to block the protein’s heart-disease-related actions without inhibiting the expression of other genes that the protein controls. This may mean modifying their approach to only target the individual protein that interferes with sugar metabolism rather than the Fox01 gene that controls its expression.

“Another problem is FoxO1 is a protein that controls the expression of hundreds or thousands of genes,” he explains. “There’s one gene that we want to modify to benefit the heart failure, but what are the other 99 or 999 genes being affected by modifying this protein? How might these genes impact the body?”

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Diastolic heart failure is just as common in people with diabetes as the more well-known systolic heart failure is, but it doesn’t tend to come with any symptoms, making it less likely to be diagnosed. Ussher urges people with diabetes and prediabetes to consider getting screened for diastolic heart disease.

Here’s to hoping that this research turns into a life-saving treatment! But for now, do all you can to keep your heart healthy and get checked regularly for signs of disease.

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