Heart and Eye Complications Share Similar Process in Type 1 Diabetes

Elevated glucose levels in people with type 1 diabetes can gradually damage blood vessels throughout the body, though the harm may be caused by different biological mechanisms in different organs.

Recently, investigators at Joslin Diabetes Center found similarities between blood vessel damage in the eyes, called proliferative diabetic retinopathy, and the damage found in cardiovascular disease. They further determined that different biological processes seem responsible for blood vessel damage in the kidneys.

“This is an unexpected finding,” says George King, M.D., Joslin senior vice-president, and chief scientific officer and professor at Harvard Medical School. “It suggests that biological factors that either protect against or boost damage to blood vessels are shared between the eye and cardiovascular system, but they may be different from those affecting the kidney.”

For the study, the research team viewed the Joslin records of people who had type 1 diabetes more than 50 years, and found 30 individuals who had chronic kidney disease but did not have severe eye damage. The researchers expected the high incidence of kidney disease would also mean high rates of cardiovascular disease, but that was not the case.

This finding was confirmed by studying data from a Finnish Diabetic Nephropathy study that included information on more than 5,500 individuals. The Joslin scientists analyzed the records of those who’d lived with diabetes at least 25 years, and results were similar to the initial investigation.

The Joslin study also validates earlier evidence that high blood sugar levels do not harm all blood vessels the same way. The researchers will continue their work by analyzing heart images of longterm diabetes patients to look for similarities in heart muscle damage, and the damage found in other organs.

“We hope that will give us the next set of clues to understand and guard against these complications,” said King.

Source: Joslin Diabetes Center
Photo credit: Drs. King and Gordin, Joslin Diabetes Center

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