Untreated High Blood Sugar Damages Heart Capillaries

New heart research highlights the importance of detecting and treating diabetes early.

Researchers at the Technical University of Munich found the loss of small blood vessels or capillaries around the heart is one reason those with diabetes have increased risk for heart attack. They also identified a genetic therapy that may restore damaged capillaries.

The investigators made their discovery by comparing the blood vessels of patients undergoing heart transplants. They observed that samples taken from those with diabetes had substantially fewer capillaries around the heart.

Lab work then linked high blood sugar levels to the loss of pericytes, cells that normally wrap around the small blood vessels and stabilize them. When the pericyte layer is damaged, blood vessels destabilize and eventually break up. If enough of these capillaries are lost, the heart’s functioning is compromised.

The study’s findings were corroborated by animal experiments revealing a steady loss of capillaries around the heart when elevated glucose went untreated. However, this blood vessel damage can be reversed. Using a genetic therapy, the researchers stimulated heart cells to boost the production of thymosin beta 4, a protein molecule that promotes the growth of pericytes. The genetic therapy triggered the restoration of capillary networks.

“It will be a while before this kind of therapy can be used in humans," said Prof. Christian Kupatt. “But we were able to show for the first time in a transgenic large animal model, which closely models human type 1 diabetes mellitus, how diabetes damages the heart. That opens up new perspectives for treating patients.”

Source: Science Daily
Photo credit: camerazn

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