Heart disease and type 2 diabetes could be prevented by taking a single pill in the future if predictions by scientists prove true.
Both conditions, which are the leading causes of death and illness across the world, are linked by the same genes, a major study found.
Based on DNA data of more than 250,000 people, the research adds to the basic understanding of both deadly ailments.
The results, which uncovered seven new genetic mutations that increase the risk of both conditions, offer hope of a future treatment.
Scientists believe that both heart disease and type 2 diabetes could be prevented by taking a single pill in future
Professor Danish Saleheen, an epidemiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, was behind the promising findings.
He said the results of the trial ‘open up new opportunities to lower the risk of both outcomes with a single drug’.
Professor Saleheen added: ‘It should be possible to design drugs for type-2 diabetes that have either beneficial or neutral effects on coronary heart disease (CHD) risk.
‘From a drug development perspective, it would make sense to focus on those pathways that are most strongly linked to both diseases.’
The true burden of the conditions
More than 380 million people across the world are known to suffer from type 2 diabetes, which can lead to a premature death.
It is considered a significant risk factor for CHD, but the pathways that explain the connection aren’t fully understood.
Diabetes is known to cause high levels of glucose in the blood, which can damage artery walls, and make them more likely to develop fatty deposits.
WHAT DRUGS COULD BE USED?
The University of Pennsylvania team believes that a couple of drugs already in existence could hold the key to potential new treatments.
They said that icosapent, an omega-3 fatty acid which lowers cholesterol, could help to lower the risk as it targets genes already linked to both conditions.
FABP4, currently under investigation for its diabetes and heart disease prevention benefits, could also have the same effects.
In mouse studies, inhibition of this gene’s protein has been shown to have anti-atherosclerotic effects.
It was found to help fight thickening and hardening with fat on the inside of arteries and anti-diabetic effects.
Cardiovascular disease, which includes CHD, killed 17 million people in 2015, World Health Organization statistics show.
The new findings, published in Nature Genetics, could help to explain the link between the two conditions, researchers say.
What did they find?
They uncovered 16 new diabetes genetic risk factors and one new one for CHD.
For eight of these sites, the researchers were able to identify a specific gene variant that influences risk for both diseases.
However, one, a variant of the cholesterol-transport protein ApoE, was linked to a higher diabetes but lower CHD risk.
The researchers said it backs up evidence that statins, designed to lower cholesterol, can increase diabetes risk.
They also showed that most of the sites on the genome known to be associated with a higher diabetes risk are linked to CHD risk.
Why does the link exist?
The team of scientists said that the DNA twist affects biological pathways including cell proliferation – linked to diabetes and heart development.
They also found diabetes-linked gene variants tend to differ in their apparent effects on heart disease – depending on their mechanisms.
Variants that increase the chance of obesity or high blood pressure appear to fuel heart disease more strongly than those that alter insulin or glucose levels.
The researchers are now planning further trials to determine a potential avenue for treating both conditions simultaneously.