AN ANAEMIA drug that could improve heart function in people with diabetes who have heart attacks, according to new reseach.

Molidustat can increase levels of a protein that helps cells survive after they are starved of oxygen.

The drug is currently in clinical trials as a potential treatment for a form of anaemia, but scientists whose findings are published today in the journal Diabetes believe it could also help diabetics to recover after a heart attack and reduce their risk of further complications, such as heart failure.

During a heart attack blood supply to the heart is reduced or cut off, starving the heart of oxygen (hypoxia).

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In diabetes, heart cells are less able to tolerate hypoxia and therefore die more quickly.

Molidustat works by increasing levels of a protein called Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1 (HIF).

Lead researcher, Dr Lisa Heather, said: “Even with optimal management, people with type 2 diabetes still have a higher risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases.

"They’re then more likely than people without diabetes to develop heart failure after a heart attack.

“Despite this, there are no treatments available to help the diabetic heart recover after a heart attack.

"We’re hopeful that we’ve identified a drug that can address this unmet need and improve outcomes for people with diabetes after a heart attack.”

When oxygen levels fall, HIF levels increase, causing it to activate its ‘target’ genes which help cells to adapt and survive.

However, previous research has found that people with diabetes have lower levels of HIF in their heart cells.

When researchers at Oxford University, funded by the British Heart Foundation, treated insulin resistant cells with molidustat they discovered that it increased levels of the HIF protein.

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A further study comparing rats with and without Type 2 diabetes also found that heart function recovered to to the same level as those without diabetes if the rats were given molidustat.

HIF is also involved in healing processes after a heart attack, such as the growth of new blood vessels.

This process, known as angiogenesis, is known to be reduced in diabetic hearts.

However, when rats with Type 2 diabetes were treated with molidustat the researchers saw increased levels of the signals involved in the growth of new blood vessels.