"We now have potential gene markers to help identify diabetes patients at increased risk for heart disease," said Alessandro Doria, M.D., Ph.D., Investigator in Joslin's Genetics and Epidemiology research section, Director of Joslin's Genetics Core and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "This knowledge could potentially lead to drugs or other methods that affect this pathway, reducing risk of heart attack and stroke in these patients."
An estimated 18 million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes. People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have cardiovascular disease, and are at increased risk for stroke, blindness, kidney disease and nerve damage.
In a two-part study published in the Oct. 1 edition of the British journal Human Molecular Genetics, Dr. Doria and his colleagues at Joslin and other research centers in the Northeast and researchers in Italy focused on a gene governing a protein called CD36. This protein is found in the membrane of several types of cells, including the walls of blood vessels.
Previous studies had shown that, among other functions, CD36 is involved in transporting free fatty acids into cells. It also is a scavenger of oxidized "bad" cholesterol LDL at the arterial wall. All are major players in contributing to atherosclerosis -- the dangerous buildup of plaque that can lead to partial or complete blockage of the artery, leading to heart attack or stroke.
In the first part of this study, the researchers mapped the structure of the CD36 gene, which consists of hundreds of nucleic acids strung together like beads on a spiral necklace. They were looking for variants in this sequence that are associate