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‘Long life’ protein to protect the hearts of people with diabetes

Project summary

People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing heart problems. Professor Madeddu plans to develop a new treatment, called a protein therapy, which will deliver a protein, that’s been found to help protect heart health. He’ll find out if the therapy can help cells to make more of this ‘longevity’ protein, to help prevent heart problems. This could lead to new treatments that protect people with diabetes from potentially life-threatening complications.

Background to research

Having diabetes can mean you’re more likely to develop cardiovascular problems, like high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure or coronary artery disease. This is because over a long period of time, high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control your heart. At the moment, there aren’t any treatments to stop it or slow down this damage. Currently, the only way to improve heart health is by keeping blood sugar levels in range and with medications like statins and ACE inhibitors.  

Proteins have important jobs in our body. One protein – known as ‘the longevity protein’ - was first discovered in people who lived long, healthy lives. It is thought to be involved in keeping our hearts healthy. 

Professor Madeddu and his team previously found that one injection of the longevity protein helped to protect against the damage caused by diabetes and keep the hearts of mice with diabetes healthy. It also protected human heart cells from stress.  

Research aims

Professor Madeddu will build on this, to find out if this, when taken orally therapy can help cells to make more of this protein, to help prevent heart problems. His team will give mice either a pill containing the longevity protein or a dummy pill, without any longevity protein.  

The team will measure the amount of insulin and glucose in the blood of the mice at different points during the treatment, to see how blood sugar levels are affecting heart function. They will also check heart function, by capturing detailed images of the structure of their hearts.  

Finally, they’ll explore if the protein therapy works to protect heart health by looking at the cells in the muscle of the heart and its lining and seeing if the damage to blood vessels caused by diabetes have been slowed down. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

There’s an urgent need to find better ways to treat and prevent heart problems in people with diabetes. This research could lead to a new therapy for people who have early signs of damage to their heart or blood vessels. If successful, it could reduce the risk of heart disease for people with diabetes or even reverse damage to the heart caused by diabetes, helping to prevent heart failure, and allowing people to live longer, healthier lives.

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