Unravelling the link between diabetes and heart disease

Research Updates

Researchers at The Heart Research Institute are the first in the world to uncover a link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease, a discovery that has the potential to save millions of lives.

More than 65 per cent of diabetics die from heart and vascular disease.

This includes heart attack, peripheral artery disease and stroke. Diabetics are also up to six times more likely to suffer from atherosclerosis than people without diabetes.

In breakthrough research, a team of cardiologists and researchers from The Heart Research Institute and Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital uncovered a direct mechanism by which the high sugar levels in diabetes causes vascular damage. They found that high glucose levels in diabetes directly interfered with the regulation of a protein called Thioredoxin Interacting Protein, or TXNIP, one of the most glucose-sensitive genes in the entire human genome.

“Vascular disease in diabetes is hallmarked by the development of impaired function of the endothelium, a critically important layer of cells that lines the blood vessel walls and serves to protect blood vessels from injury and disease,” said Associate Professor Martin Ng, Head of the Translational Research and Bioengineering Group at The Heart Research Institute and interventional cardiologist at RPA.  

“Our work is tremendously exciting because it identifies, for the first time, how high glucose can directly contribute to vascular disease in diabetes and it identifies a new target for therapy,” Professor Ng said.

“We found that by interfering with TXNIP, high-glucose levels are able to directly interfere with endothelial cell function and cause endothelial cell death - key hallmarks of the cardiovascular disease of diabetes.

“By preventing high glucose-mediated interference with TXNIP, we were able to strikingly rescue the endothelial cell dysfunction of diabetes,” Associate Professor Ng said.

The team, which will have its ground-breaking work published this week in Diabetes, the official journal of the American Diabetes Association, has also been awarded a new grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council to investigate a drug that prevents diabetic vascular disease through TXNIP with the aim of developing new, more effective therapies.

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