How Diabetes May Increase Heart Attack Risk

Small blood vessels

Patients with diabetes are known to be at increased risk for a heart attack. Researchers at the Technical University of Munich think they have identified one of the drivers of this risk: a reduction in the number of small blood vessels around the heart caused by elevated blood sugar levels.

The team first noticed the loss of small vessels in hearts taken from diabetes patients undergoing heart transplantation. In follow-up laboratory experiments, they saw that high blood sugar levels were associated with the loss of a type of cell known as a pericyte. These cells normally wrap around and stabilize the small blood vessels.

In animal models, the researchers confirmed the loss of small blood vessels in the heart over time with exposure to high blood sugar. And in experiments with diabetic pigs, the researchers were able to use a genetic therapy to stimulate the re-growth of pericytes and, in turn, some of the small blood vessels.

Though such gene therapy is not ready for use in humans, this research “reinforces our awareness of how important it is to diagnose diabetes early,” said Christian Kupatt, MD, the study’s senior author, in an accompanying press release.

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