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First study shows how diabetes damages heart vessels and it is reversible

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
For the first time researchers understand how diabetes damages the heart. The good news is it is reversible.

Researchers have discovered for the first time how diabetes can cause heart damage. The finding is good news because scientists have also discovered the process is reversible.


Technical University of Munich (TUM) researchers used mouse models to confirm high blood sugar levels leads to a loss of protective cells know as pericytes.

"These cells normally form a layer wrapped around the small blood vessels," explains Rabea Hinkel,a cardiologist at TUM's Klinikum rechts der Isar. "We believe that this layer has a stabilizing function. When it is damaged, the entire blood vessel becomes unstable and ultimately breaks up."

What that means is the heart muscle is more susceptible to damage that can happen over time; possibly leading to heart attack.

Good news

The good news is researchers say they used a genetic therapy in animal experiments to generate new capillaries (small blood vessels) that feed the heart and keep it healthy.

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The researchers found by stimulating the production of the molecule thymosin beta 4 they could induce new pericyte formation.

"It will be a while before this kind of therapy can be used in humans," says TUM's researcher and cardiologist Christian Kupatt.

"But we were able to show for the first time in a transgenic large animal model, which closely models human type I diabetes mellitus, how diabetes damages the heart. That opens up new perspectives for treating patients. It also further reinforces our awareness of how important it is to diagnose diabetes early."

"Diabetes Mellitus–Induced Microvascular Destabilization in the Myocardium"
Rabea Hinkel, et al
DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2016.10.058

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