Mechanisms that connect the eye and the heart could reveal clues on how to prevent complications in people with type 1 diabetes.
Scientists from Joslin Diabetes Center say their “unexpected finding” sheds light on a surprise connectio, with proliferative diabetic retinopathy shown to be independently associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Most often, complications that arise in type 1 diabetes are caused by damage to blood vessels caused by long-term high blood glucose levels. But in some instances complications can be caused by different biological mechanisms in different organs. For example, people with diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease) have a greater risk of CVD.
The Joslin researchers investigated records of hundreds of participants involved in the Joslin Medalist program and identified 30 people who didn’t have retinopathy but did have kidney disease. Surprisingly, this group didn’t have much of an increased risk of CVD.
Looking to replicate their findings, Daniel Gordi, MD, PhD and colleagues studied a separate cohort of Finnish patients with type 1 diabetes for at least 25 years. A lower prevalence of CVD was observed in those with kidney disease but no retinopathy, while retinopathy was shown to be independently associated with CVD.
George King, MD, Joslin senior vice president and chief scientific officer and professor at Harvard Medical School, said this discovery “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. This is an unexpected finding.”
The researchers will now analyse heart images of certain Medalists to further explore links between heart muscles and damage to other organs.
“We hope that will give us the next set of clues to understand and guard against these complications,” added King.
The results have been published online in the journal Diabetes Care.

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