Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

A discovery by a Stellenbosch University researcher could revolutionise the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Resia Pretorius‚ from the physiological sciences department‚ has found that dormant bacteria in blood can be brought back to life by excessive iron levels‚ triggering blood clots. These lead to inflammation that causes health problems ranging from strokes and heart attacks to Alzheimer’s disease‚ arthritis and diabetes.

Studies by Pretorius and Douglas Kell‚ from the University of Manchester in the UK‚ are changing the way scientists think about the effect bacteria have on a number of diseases‚ and more research could open up new preventive measures‚ including removing dormant microbes from blood and blocking the inflammatory toxins they shed.

Pretorius said she wanted to "translate her basic research findings into clinical practice in order to reduce the global burden of disease and death due to the formation of blood clots in various inflammatory conditions".

Pretorius and Kell set out to find whether the reactivation of the 1,000 bacterial cells in each millilitre of blood could affect clotting. They found that endotoxins from the bacteria encourage the formation of abnormal blood clots that look like those involved in heart attacks‚ strokes and deep-vein thrombosis.

"In normal blood clots‚ [fibres] would look like a bowl of spaghetti‚" said Pretorius. "But in diseased individuals‚ their blood clots look matted, with large fused and condensed fibres."

The abnormal clotting has now been observed in all inflammatory conditions studied‚ including type 2 diabetes‚ the so-called "lifestyle" version of the disease linked to obesity‚ lack of exercise and poor diet. "We think bugs are involved in all these diseases‚" said Kell.

In the latest study‚ reported in the journal Scientific Reports‚ Pretorius‚ Kell and University of Pretoria PhD student Sthembile Mbotwe found that a protein produced by all humans could reverse the abnormal clotting structure in the blood of type 2 diabetics.

In contrast to current thinking about type 2 diabetes‚ there was now "a considerable amount of evidence‚ much of it new"‚ that offered new opportunities for treatment‚ they said.

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