NEWS | February 15, 2013

Pharmacologist to test new therapy for protecting diabetics from heart failure


A UC Davis pharmacologist has been awarded a two-year, $95,000 Innovation Award from the American Diabetes Association to find out if blocking the pancreatic hormone amylin can reduce diabetic heart failure.

Dr. Florin Despa Dr. Florin Despa

The researcher — Florin Despa — previously found that amylin accumulates in strings of proteins called oligomers in the heart tissue of patients with heart disease and type 2 diabetes or obesity.

“We now want to determine if limiting accumulation of oligomerized amylin in cardiac tissue can delay or even prevent the development of diabetic heart failure,” said Despa, an assistant professor of pharmacology in the UC Davis School of Medicine. “This is a priority for my lab, because heart failure is the number-one killer for people with diabetes.”

In healthy people, amylin circulates in the blood together with insulin — the hormone that controls carbohydrate and fat metabolism — and principally regulates gastric fluxes and the sensation of satiety.

In previous experiments, Despa found widespread amylin deposition in tissue from failing hearts of patients with type 2 diabetes or obesity. Those who were overweight but not obese had some, but not extensive, amylin accumulation, and there was little or none in the heart tissue of lean or non-diabetic people. These studies suggested that cardiac accumulation of the hormone has a role in advancing heart failure for those who are diabetic or obese.

Despa will use the new funding to find out if signaling molecules that have anti-aggregation properties — such as plasmin and eicosanoids — can limit amylin accumulation and its destructive heart-health effects in rats.

“If successful, this project may lead to new therapeutic targets for cardioprotection for those with diabetes,” said Despa.

The American Diabetes Association funds research that accelerates progress toward improved treatments and a cure for diabetes. The program emphasizes innovative and novel projects, along with funding opportunities for early-career researchers. For more information, visit

The UC Davis School of Medicine is among the nation's leading medical schools, recognized for its research and primary-care programs. The school offers fully accredited master's degree programs in public health and in informatics, and its combined M.D.-Ph.D. program is training the next generation of physician-scientists to conduct high-impact research and translate discoveries into better clinical care. Along with being a recognized leader in medical research, the school is committed to serving underserved communities and advancing rural health. For more information, visit