Researchers say they figured out why more than half of people with type 2 diabetes die from heart disease, and they say they worked to stop this too.
Previous studies of heart disease have shown that cardiac stem cells are damaged in people with type 2 diabetes. Although stem cell therapy works effectively in people with heart disease, this approach doesn’t seem to work in diabetes.
A team from the University of Otago wanted to investigate why this is happening and what treatment would be the best course of action in the future.
They found that it was all due to tiny molecules called microRNA that control gene expression.
Associate Professor Rajesh Katare of the Department of Physiology said, “Based on the results of laboratory tests, we have identified the number of microRNAs that are compromised in stem cells of the diabetic heart.
“Among several microRNAs, we found that a specific microRNA called miR-30c, which is crucial for the survival, growth and formation of new blood vessels in the stem cells, is reduced in the diabetic stem cells. All of these functions are required for stem cell therapy to be successful in the heart.
“Also importantly, we have confirmed that this microRNA is reduced in the stem cells taken from the heart tissue of patients undergoing heart surgery at Dunedin Hospital.”
The research team was able to increase the production of miR-30c through an injection, which, according to Professor Katare, “led to a significant improvement in the survival and growth of stem cells in the diabetic heart”.
He added: “This fascinating discovery has newly identified that impairment of the microRNAs is the reason why the stem cells in the diabetic heart are inoperable. More importantly, the results identified a novel therapy to activate stem cells in the heart using microRNA without the need to inject stem cells, which is a time-consuming and costly process. “