Some people with Type 2 diabetes might be at higher risk for heart disease if they also carry a particular type of gene, new research reveals.
The gene variant could raise diabetics' odds for heart woes by about a third compared to people without this DNA, according to a team from the Harvard School of Public Health and Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
The finding might lead to new ways to prevent or treat heart disease in this group of patients, the team added. People with diabetes are already up to four times more likely to develop heart disease than those without diabetes, and heart disease remains the leading cause of death among the more than 370 million people worldwide with Type 2 diabetes, according to information in a Harvard news release.
As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Boston team analyzed data from more than 4,100 people with Type 2 diabetes. About one-third of them also had heart disease.
The team tested more than 2.5 million genetic variants and found that one located near the GLUL gene was consistently associated with a 36 percent increased risk of heart disease.
"This is a very intriguing finding because this variant was not found in previous genome-wide association studies in the general population," lead author Dr. Lu Qi, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, said in the news release.
"This means that the genetic risk factors for cardiovascular disease may be different among those with and without diabetes," added Qi, also an assistant professor at the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Experts lauded the research, saying it expands scientists' understanding of the connection between diabetes and heart disease.
"Not only did [the researchers] find a new gene that is linked to coronary heart disease, they identified that this gene will only increase the risk of coronary heart disease if the patient also has diabetes -- in persons without diabetes this gene has no effect," said Jason Kovacic, M.D., assistant professor of medicine in the department of cardiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
According to Dr. Kovacic, the study "opens the door" to the notion that diabetes and other factors "can change the impact of any genetic alterations on the chance of having a stroke or heart attack. This is certain to be a very important line of research in the years ahead."
Tara Narula, M.D., is associate director of the cardiac care unit at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She agreed with Kovacic that the Boston team's finding might have implications for better treatments.
"Understanding the mechanism of the gene involved could provide the key to creating drugs that might be protective against [coronary heart disease] in diabetics," Dr. Narula said.
"Overall, this study expands our current knowledge base and offers hope of designer therapies and treatment plans that could at least ease the [cardiovascular disease] burden of diabetics: a population that already suffers tremendously from the toll diabetes takes on multiple other organ systems in the body."