Understanding the link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease

Blood in a test tube

Diabetes greatly increases the chance of a person suffering from heart and circulatory disease, but we don't fully understand why.

Thanks to your donations, we've been able to put £199,750 towards research that is trying to understand the link.

The science

Diabetes is caused by a breakdown in the system which controls the amount of sugar in the blood. It means the level of sugar is too high, which can lead to health problems including heart and circulatory disease.

A team of scientists from the University of Bristol is looking at the effect of diabetes on the slimy, gel-like layer that covers our blood vessels. This layer, called the glycocalyx, is made of glycoprotein, a mixture of sugars. It seems to play a important role in the effective working of our blood vessels, but that role isn't well understood.

In mice, the team is looking in detail at how this sugary layer coats the capilliaries, the tiny blood vessels that make up a large proportion of our circulation. They hope to confirm that disruption to this coating in the coronary arteries upsets the heart's ability to pump, potentially leading to heart failure.

The insights gained by this team of scientists, led by Dr Simon Satchell, will give us a greater understanding of the link between diabetes and circulatory disease. But such painstaking work has only been made possible thanks to a grant of £199,750 - all of which comes from you, our supporters.

We fund several other projects which focus on the role of diabetes in heart and circulatory disease. One long-running study we support, SABRE, recently announced new findings that shed light on why diabetes is more common in South Asian and African Caribbean people. We have also funded a project called Lolipop, which has led to increased understandings of what causes increased diabetes risk.

Another study from the University of Warwick, showed that diabetes might lead to circulatory disease in part because of 'ultrabad' cholesterol, a type of cholesterol which seems to ‘stick’ more easily to the walls of blood vessels than even normal harmful LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol.

What this could mean for heart patients

These pieces of research mean that we gain a greater understanding of the link between diabetes and heart disease.

Understanding could help scientists develop treatments for both conditions, and help us understand what we can all do to help prevent these debilitating conditions from developing in the first place.

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