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Diabetes Research Laboratory

Our lab aims to uncover the mechanisms of interventions that benefit cardiac muscle in diabetes.

Diabetes, a serious chronic condition, is steadily impacting a growing number of people in the United States. With research made possible by grant funding from the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, and U.S. Department of Commerce, KU's Diabetes Research Laboratory aims to address the cardiovascular complications of the disease.

Diabetic heart disease and the benefits of exercise

Among individuals with diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death. With the onset of diabetes, the heart muscle becomes stiff and weak and is unable to efficiently supply blood to the body. The disease also damages the structural components of cardiac muscles. Because physical exercise is known to improve heart performance, the Diabetes Research Lab looks to uncover the biochemical and molecular mechanisms that benefit cardiac muscle.

Using a non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique, the research team has demonstrated physical exercise improves the diabetic heart's ability to contract and relax and can correct some of the structural defects.

Researchers in the lab also found a specific drug which affects one of the critical molecules responsible for causing heart stiffness in individuals suffering from diabetes. This drug can partially mimic the effects of physical exercise by regulating the same molecule in a manner similar to exercise. Such an alternative could be an invaluable resource for those who are unable to exercise due to complications of the disease.

Changes in cardiac protein structure due to diabetes

By utilizing proteomics, the large-scale study of protein structure and function, the lab researchers continue to work toward identifying the changes in cardiac proteins due to diabetes. By discovering a clear understanding as to what changes diabetes elicits in proteins and how these changes affect the protein function, researchers can develop therapies to prevent protein damage and help heart tissue to withstand the harmful effects of diabetes.

Lab director

Irina V. Smirnova, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Director, Ph.D. in rehabilitation science program

KU School of Health Professions

Physical Therapy, Rehabilitation Science, and Athletic Training
University of Kansas Medical Center
Mail Stop 2002
3901 Rainbow Blvd.
Kansas City, KS 66160