Healthy heart cells are omnivores, meaning they can use several types of fuel to do their work. But for people with poorly managed or undiagnosed diabetes, the heart's fuel source is limited, and that can cause problems during heart attacks and stroke.
New research from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation might hold promise for reversing changes to the heart caused by diabetes.
Diabetes affects 25.8 million Americans, including 296,000 Oklahomans.
Normally, cells use a hormone called insulin to turn glucose — a type of sugar created by the body when it processes food — into energy. But diabetic patients' bodies don't make enough insulin or become insulin-resistant, so they can't process the glucose.
Heart cells prefer to use fat as fuel. So it might not seem like a big deal that heart cells can't process glucose in diabetic patients, said OMRF scientist Ken Humphries.
“Heart cells always need to be able to make energy so the heart can keep beating,” he said. “When you start restricting which fuels they can use, that causes problems.”
In a paper published in the Biochemical Journal, Humphries found that mitochondria — the power generators — in the heart cells of diabetic mice looked like they were broken, but they could still create energy if given the right fuel.
In response to the diabetes, the proteins in the heart cells had been modified to limit the kind of fuel it could accept. But if those changes could be reversed, it would allow the cells to continue using more kinds of fuel and improve energy production.
“Getting them closer to a prediabetic condition could save lives,” Humphries said.
The next step is to find exactly which proteins in the heart cells are being modified and to understand what conditions might allow modifications to be reversed.
Funding for the research was provided by the National Center for Research Resources, a part of the National Institutes of Health.
Greg Elwell is a public affairs specialist with Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.