A team of researchers at UAE University (UAEU) are studying new ways of how diabetes affects the heart, with the potential of coming up with new solutions on how to treat diabetes.
The research project is specifically looking at the heart’s muscle cells that are in charge of its normal functions, and how these cells are impacted by type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
“Our research is particularly interested in the cellular basis of the problems in the heart — the cells that produce the electrical activity in the heart, and the cells that produce the mechanical activity for the heart’s contraction. In the case of a diabetic heart, it is not uncommon to see that there are problems with either the electrical or mechanical system, and that is what we are very interested in studying,” explained Dr Chris Howarth from the Department of Physiology at UAEU.
According to Howarth, the process behind the electrical and mechanical functions of the heart is mainly regulated and controlled by calcium.
“Calcium irons are essential for the normal function of the heart, both in terms of generating electrical activity, and the regulation of the contraction. Any disturbance in the calcium systems will have an effect on the heart.
“So if we can understand more about the way calcium controls these functions, we might then be able to know more about the effects of diabetes on the heart, and that is what we are doing, investigating the effects of diabetes on the process of calcium signalling in the heart,” he added.
To help with the research, Dr Howarth said that a new state-of-the-art electrophysiology system was set up, which will allow the team to measure the calcium currents moving across the cells in controlled experiments.
“The system we have assembled enables the simultaneous measurement of L-type calcium and intracellular calcium in individual heart muscle cells. In turn, this enables us to study the effects of experimentally induced type 1 and type 2 diabetes on calcium signalling in individual cardiac muscle cells.
“With this technology, we can now measure calcium currents, these cells are smaller than a pin head, they are tiny cells, and we can actually investigate the calcium signalling in those cells. This gives us more power to resolve the cellular biology of calcium signalling,” he added.
Dr Howarth said that this understanding of what is happening at a cellular level could lead to the development of new treatments.
“If we can understand what is going at a cellular level, and how diabetes is affecting these heart cells, it can help us come up with new treatment strategies.
“These new treatment strategies can include genetic engineering, and new effective drugs that can treat the problem. It all comes down to being able to understand what’s happening at the cellular level,” he added.