A study carried out at the University of the Highlands and Islands found the drug N-acetylcysteine could be used as an alternative to aspirin to treat patients with type 2 diabetes.
Heart disease is the major cause of reduced life expectancy in patients with diabetes, but aspirin, the drug normally used to prevent heart attacks, is less effective among diabetics.
However, a study led by Professor Ian Megson at the University's Department of Diabetes and Cardiovascular Science, found the blood platelets – a vital component of the blood clots that underpin heart attacks – have depleted reserves of key antioxidant glutathione in patients with type 2 diabetes.
The work found patients receiving a single daily dose N-acetylcysteine brought platelet glutathione back to normal and reduced indicators of clot formation in the blood.
Futhermore, the drug only worked in patients with low glutathione levels, meaning doctors knew exactly which patients would be helped most and could target the drug where it would be most effective.
Mr Megson explained: "Aspirin has long been recognised to be useful in helping to prevent heart attacks, but it has recently been found to be largely ineffective in patients with diabetes before there is evidence of heart damage.
"There is an urgent need to find new drugs as alternatives to aspirin in this group. This study represents an important early step in finding just such a drug. We are now in the hunt for further funding to take the therapy to larger trials to establish its potential in patients with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes."