People with Type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease as those without. However, an Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist’s recent discovery could someday reduce that statistic.
During experiments involving mice fed a high-fat diet, scientist Kenneth Humphries, Ph.D., found that increasing a naturally produced enzyme prevented those mice from developing heart problems.
“This discovery opens the door for future research targeting that enzyme to treat or prevent heart disease resulting from diabetes,” Humphries said.
Type 2 diabetes is among the most common chronic and often preventable diseases. It develops when cells stop responding normally to insulin. In response, the pancreas makes more insulin but can’t keep up with demand, causing blood sugar levels to rise. While some people are more genetically at risk than others, Type 2 diabetes typically results from obesity and lack of exercise.
About 1 in 10 Americans have Type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A far greater number – roughly 1 in 3 American adults – have prediabetes. In prediabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as Type 2 diabetes. Up to 70% of people with the condition will progress to the actual disease.
Over time, diabetes can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart. People with diabetes also are more likely to have other conditions that raise the risk for heart disease.
Humphries and scientist Maria Mendez Garcia, Ph.D., found that increasing the enzyme PFK-2 had beneficial effects not only for the heart but also for the metabolism of mice who ate a high-fat diet for 16 weeks.
The lab’s finding comes with a caveat, however, Humphries said. It involves glycolysis, the body’s process of breaking down glucose to produce energy.
“Other labs have looked at the same general idea that we did,” he said. “The difference is, those labs simply had the heart take up more sugar, and in doing so, the health effects were bad, especially for the heart.”
Humphries said his lab instead targeted PFK-2, which helps break down sugar. The results demonstrated that the key is for the heart to metabolize sugar properly, he said.
“Dr. Humphries’ work shows that the harmful effects of western diets on the heart can be prevented by increasing the use of glucose in the heart,” said scientist Benjamin Miller, Ph.D. “More surprisingly, though, it shows that by changing the use in the heart, the whole body responds in a positive way. This research could lead to heart-centric approaches to improving metabolic health in people with diabetes.”
Humphries’ findings were published in the journal iScience. His study was supported by National Institutes of Health grant Nos. R01HL160955, P30AG050911, P20GM103447 and R24GM137786, and by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Funding for Humphries’ preliminary data was provided by Oklahoma City’s Presbyterian Health Foundation.