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New research could help detect early signs of heart failure in diabetic patients

New research in Leicester, which has been funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), could help understand how heart failure can develop in people living with Type 2 diabetes.

An estimated 3.7 million people in the UK are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The condition is a significant risk factor for heart disease, as it causes damage to the blood vessels. This can lead to heart failure, which means the heart can’t pump blood around the body as well as it should. 

Currently, it is unknown how many people with Type 2 diabetes develop heart failure, why they are particularly at risk of developing it - and how to detect a decline in heart function earlier. 

A previous small study found that in diabetic patients, their heart has an abnormal way of using the calcium that is needed to make heart muscle cells contract and deliver blood around the body. 

Now, researchers at the University of Leicester have been awarded £275,000 from the BHF to carry out a larger study to understand if this abnormal handling of calcium in the heart could lead to heart failure.

The project will involve using MRI scans to study the hearts of 60 people with Type 2 diabetes but without any previous evidence of heart failure. These scans will help visualise how calcium is handled in their heart.

MRI scans will also be carried out on 20 people with diabetes and heart failure and a further 20 healthy volunteers, so that the results can be compared. The research will identify the characteristics of heart failure in diabetic patients.

Alongside this, 40 adults aged under 40 with Type 2 diabetes will be studied over six months undertaking a low-calorie diet and exercise training. This will assess the impact on the heart and see if it can lead to diabetes remission and improved heart function.

The funding has been awarded to Gerry McCann, Professor of Cardiac Imaging at University of Leicester and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist at Leicester’s Hospitals. The project will be led by Dr Abhishek Dattani.

Professor McCann said: “Heart failure is a major cause of reduced quality of life and life expectancy in people with diabetes. 

“Detecting signs of heart deterioration earlier in these patients means we can diagnose them quicker and provide treatments sooner.

“This study adds to the cutting-edge research we are doing with the Leicester Diabetes Centre. The results should give us a better understanding of heart disease in patients with diabetes and potentially lead to new ways of diagnosing the condition, as well as new treatments.”

Dr Gabriela Warpsinski, Research Advisor at the BHF, added: “In the UK, one third of adults with diabetes sadly die from a heart or circulatory disease, so finding early treatments and preventions is key.

“This study will identify the abnormal changes that happen in the heart of diabetics and how these changes can progress to heart failure, which could ultimately reveal new targets to prevent or treat heart failure in people living with diabetes.

“The BHF can only fund vital research like this thanks to the generous support of the public, in driving forward our mission to beat heartbreak forever.”

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