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Heart Health
10 March, 2017

Can ‘good cholesterol’ prevent heart complications in diabetes patients?

Heart Health

New research from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and funded by Diabetes Australia, will investigate whether high density lipoproteins (HDL, also known as ‘the good cholesterol’) will promote new blood vessel formation in people with diabetes. This a key issue for diabetics, as difficulty to develop new blood vessels leads to poor wound healing and makes them more vulnerable following a heart attack.

Alternate therapies; an increasing need for diabetes patients

Currently, people living with diabetes have an increased risk of heart attack and an eight times higher risk of amputation, as a result of poor new blood vessel formation. Despite advances in treatments, many patients find they are ineffective, highlighting the need for alternate therapies.

The science behind this research

Dr Joanne Tan, who has been awarded this funding by Diabetes Australia, has recently joined SAHMRI as Senior Post Doctoral Researcher within the Heart Health theme. She is part of the Plaque Biology and New Blood Vessel Area headed by Dr Christina Bursill.

Previously based at the Heart Research Institute in Sydney, Dr Tan and Dr Bursill have conducted extensive research showing that HDL has cardioprotective and anti-diabetic effects.

Dr Tan said that HDL can regulate new blood vessel formation in both inflammation and in response to low oxygen levels that occur following a heart attack or in wounding. HDL inhibits new blood vessels in inflammation, which is associated with cancer and plaque formation and can increase new blood vessel formation in the presence of low oxygen.

The benefits of HDL

“In our most recent findings, HDL promoted blood vessel formation in a diabetic setting; however, its exact mechanism is unknown. These findings highlight a new pathway for the translation of HDL,” Dr Tan said.

“These findings, published in the international journal Diabetes, provide the foundation for future studies to identify novel therapeutic targets that reverse the debilitating effects of diabetes.

“The grant funded by Diabetes Australia will allow us to explore the mechanism of action of HDL, and we already have a few leads” Dr Tan added.

Dr Tan and her team have discovered new microRNAs (miRNAs) that are regulated by HDL and regulate blood vessel formation in diabetes. miRNAs are small molecules in the body that inhibit gene expression. They are emerging as new targets for complex diseases, including diabetic vascular complications.

miRNAs can target multiple genes at the same time. This gives them significant advantages over current single-gene targeted therapies.

HDL is also a carrier of miRNAs and can deliver them to sites of injury. By further characterising if and how HDL regulate miRNAs in diabetes, it will facilitate the development of targeted delivery approaches for miRNAs that assist in overcoming complex disease. 

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The SAHMRI community acknowledges and pays respect to the Kaurna people as the traditional custodians of the Adelaide region. We also acknowledge the deep feelings of attachment and the relationship of the Kaurna people to their country. We pay our respects to the Kaurna peoples' ancestors and the living Kaurna people today.