Swedish researchers have discovered a protein that increases with high blood sugars, starting a cascade of blood vessel degeneration that can cause heart attacks and strokes for diabetics.

Atherosclerosis is a condition where plaque builds up inside your arteries, and is the leading cause of heart attacks, stroke and peripheral vascular disease. It's well known that high blood sugars raise the risk for heart disease. But with this new information, the researchers from Lund University have successfully stopped atherosclerosis in mice, and might be able to do the same in humans.

“We have now shown that it is possible to stop the atherosclerosis caused by diabetes despite the fact that the mice continued to have high blood sugar levels,” said Maria Gomez, a researcher at the Lund University Diabetes Centre.

By preventing the activation of the NFAT protein with a drug that was created as an immunosuppressant, the researchers we able to halt the destructive vascular process associated with diabetes. The substance is blood vessel specific, not affecting NFAT production in other areas of the body; which is a key component — not to immunosuppress the entire system.

Anna Zetterqvistsaid, “It appears that there are different mechanisms behind plaque formation caused by diabetes and not caused by diabetes." Plaque formation was only halted in mice with diabetes and not the other mice with blood vessel plaque but no diabetes.

Researchers findings indicate that by blocking these NFAT proteins there may be a targeted treatment in the future for human subjects with diabetes.