Researchers say they have figured out why more than half of people with type 2 diabetes die from heart disease and they say they have also worked how to stop it.

Previous studies looking at heart disease have shown that heart stem cells in those who have type 2 diabetes become damaged. Although stem cell therapy works effectively with people who have heart disease, this approach does not seem to work in diabetes.

So, a team from the University of Otago wanted to investigate why this happens and what treatment would be the best course of action in the future.

They have found that it all comes down to tiny molecules called microRNA which control gene expression.

Associate Professor Rajesh Katare, of the Department of Physiology, said: “Based on the results of laboratory testing, we identified the number of microRNAs that are impaired in stem cells of the diabetic heart.

“Among several microRNAs we identified that one particular microRNA called miR-30c -which is crucial for the stem cells’ survival, growth and new blood vessel formation – is reduced in the diabetic stem cells. All these functions are required for stem cell therapy to be successful in the heart.

“Importantly, we also confirmed that this microRNA is decreased in the stem cells collected from the heart tissue of the patients undergoing heart surgery at Dunedin Hospital.”

The research team were able to boost production of miR-30c by using an injection which Professor Katare said “resulted in significantly improving the survival and growth of stem cells in the diabetic heart”.

He added: “This fascinating discovery has newly identified that impairment in the microRNAs is the underlying reason for the stem cells being not functional in the diabetic heart. More importantly, the results have identified a novel therapy for activation of stem cells in the heart using microRNA, without the need to inject stem cells, which is a time and cost consuming process.”

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