Copying the activity of molecules found naturally in the body could provide a new approach to treating vascular disease in diabetes, a new study involving scientists in Ireland has found.

The research, led by University College Dublin and Monash University in Melbourne, could in time reduce the incidence of stroke and heart problems in people with diabetes.

Cardiovascular disease rates are higher in those with diabetes, caused by a build-up of fat and immune cells in the form of plaque in blood vessels.

Plaque is dangerous because it can break away and clog blood vessels, leading to stroke.

Messenger molecules which should prevent inflammation can be overwhelmed in patients with diabetes, leading to a severe inflammatory response.

This study, led by Dr Eoin Brennan in UCD, looked at whether a synthetic version of a molecule called lipoxin could be used to copy the activity of the messengers.

The synthetic, called Benzo-LXA4, was found to not only decrease the quantity of plaque in the vessels, but also reversed pre-existing heart disease in animal models.

When the international team then tested the molecules on human carotid tissue, the scientists found they also reduced inflammation and could prevent the progression of plaque build-up in animals with established lesions.

If the discovery can be turned into a treatment, if could potentially save many people with diabetes from developing vascular disease.

The approach is gentler than those that just blocking inflammation, according to Professor Catherine Godson, Director of the UCD Diabetes Complications Research Centre and co-senior author.

At present 425 million people around the world have diabetes and this is expected to rise to 750 million by 2025. 

Managing the disease costs around 10% of our national healthcare budget.

The EU funded study is published in the journal Diabetes.