Diabetes continues to be an ongoing health issue for developed countries and third-world populations alike, with recent reports suggesting that the disease is on the rise, from 135 million cases in 1995 to as many as 300 million cases expected by 2025, and a staggering 439 million by 2030. Lifestyle factors, such as poor diet, lack of fitness, urbanization, and stress, as well as dietary, hereditary and genetic factors all contribute to the onset of diabetes. Fatal side-effects include diabetic ketoacidosis, renal failure, retinopathy and cardiovascular complications.
In order to address the cardiovascular complications of the disease, scientists at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine have been working on novel strategies to counter the effects of Diabetic Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in diabetic patients. This condition is characterized by ventricular dysfunctions, which are independent of coronary artery disease and diastolic dysfunctions. DCM affects around twice the number of males and five times the number of diabetic females as compared to their age matched non diabetic controls. What is even worse is that 75% of these cases do not have proper symptoms, and hence absence of proper treatment measures most often lead to high levels of morbidity.
Texas A&M researchers are currently studying Retinoic Acid — a breakdown product of vitamin A — which is responsible for proper lipid-glucose metabolism, suppression of obesity, insulin production, and reduction of oxidative stress; all of which are predisposing factors for diabetes. There are two receptors, namely, the Retinoic Acid Receptor (RAR) and Retinoid X Receptor (RXR), which, when bound to ligands, activate these metabolic pathways. Hence, using diabetic animal models and cultured heart cells, researchers were able to show improved blood-glucose levels and insulin resistance, thus preventing diabetes induced cardiac dysfunctions. It was also identified that in a DCM heart the RAR\RXR pathways were damaged which might have triggered the consequences.
The research team suggests that if the RAR\RXR pathways and their effects on the heart can be minutely studied, scientists may eventually be able to identify therapeutic targets to treat cardiovascular complications triggered by diabetes.