Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is commonly associated with smell of rotten eggs, stink bombs and blocked drains but lower blood levels of the gas are possibly linked to cardiovascular complications in some male patients with type II diabetes, according to research recently presented by researchers at the Peninsula Medical School in the South West of England at the Annual Diabetes UK Professional Conference in Glasgow this week and published in Diabetic Medicine.
H2S is produced naturally within our bodies, along with other chemical compounds such as nitric oxide, where it is believed to help regulate blood pressure. Research shows that a balance between these compounds relates to good health, whereas an imbalance could indicate disease. In the case of diabetes, common complications of the disease are high blood pressure and microvascular dysfunction, which leads to damage of the tiny blood vessels (microvessels) that deliver blood, oxygen and nutrients to the eyes, skin, nerves and kidney.
Dr. Matt Whiteman of the Peninsula Medical School and colleagues from the Peninsula National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Facility have compared the levels of H2S in blood samples taken from healthy people and male patients with type II diabetes and found markedly decreased levels of H2S in the diabetes patients. Lower H2S levels were associated with clinical markers of impaired microvessel function suggesting that a loss of this blood pressure lowering gas could be a contributing factor in the development of vascular complications in patients with diabetes.
Previous work on H2S has almost exclusively been carried out on animals in the laboratory however work carried out at PMS in the recently opened Peninsula NIHR Clinical Research Facility has been the first to investigate the role of H2S in any disease in humans. Dr. Whiteman commented: "Our previous work in the test tube has shown the potential for H2S to mediate blood pressure regulation. However, this is the first study examining H2S levels in a human disease with relevant clinical indices of vascular health."
He added: "It would appear that in this study, male patients with diabetes have lower levels of H2S in their blood compared to otherwise healthy males of the same age. Lower levels of H2S could effect how blood vessels dilate. Although these are early days in a new field of research, manipulation of H2S levels by novel or existing pharmacological or even dietary means in the future could help treat or prevent cardiovascular complications caused by diabetes and other related conditions."
This work was funded in part by local research charity the Northcott Devon Medical Foundation.
More information is available by logging on at www.pms.ac.uk.
16th March 2009.
The Peninsula Medical School is a joint entity of the University of Exeter, the University of Plymouth and the NHS in the South West of England, and a partner of the Combined Universities in Cornwall. The Peninsula Medical School has created for itself an excellent national and international reputation for groundbreaking research in the areas of diabetes and obesity, neurological disease, child development and ageing, clinical education and health technology assessment. The Peninsula Medical School is licensed under the Human Tissue Act to hold ethically acquired human tissue.
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