Protein presence predicts diabetes type 2 risk well in advance, study finds

By the time it’s discovered, it’s often too late.

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Several years have passed and the eyes and blood vessels have already weathered significant damage when at last a patient is typically diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. With such drastic outcomes at stake, physicians and their at-risk customers are always on the lookout for the next best preventative measure. Fortunately for modern seekers, that up-and-coming solution may arrive soon via the efforts of Lund University researchers, who have advanced one step closer to the development of a test that will be able to predict what patients are at risk for the specific brand of diabetes earlier on.

"We have shown that individuals who have above-average levels of a protein called SFRP4 in the blood are five times more likely to develop diabetes in the next few years than those with below-average levels", said Anders Rosengren, a researcher at the Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC) and leader the risk marker endeavor, in a news release.

Donated insulin-producing beta cells from both diabetic and non-diabetic patients were examined by the LUDC team wherein it was discovered that those individuals with type 2 diabetes had an increased level of protein SFRP4 in their systems. Levels of SFRP4 in the blood of non-diabetic participants was measure three times at intervals of three years; 37 percent of those who were found to have elevated counts developed diabetes over the course of the study, while only 9 percent of patients with lower than average rates of the protein were later diagnosed with the condition.

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"This makes it a strong risk marker that is present several years before diagnosis. We have also identified the mechanism for how SFRP4 impairs the secretion of insulin. The marker therefore reflects not only an increased risk, but also an ongoing disease process", Rosengren noted.

The study marks the first time a linkage between inflamed beta cells and diabetes has been confirmed.

"The theory has been that low-grade chronic inflammation weakens the beta cells so that they are no longer able to secrete sufficient insulin. There are no doubt multiple reasons for the weakness, but the SFRP4 protein is one of them," Taman Mahdi, main author of the study and one of the researchers in Anders Rosengren's group, said.

While still in the beginning stages of industry examination, the LUDC research could have considerable consequences for diabetes diagnosis and prognosis going forward.

"If we can point to an increased risk of diabetes in a middle-aged individual of normal weight using a simple blood test, up to ten years before the disease develops, this could provide strong motivation to them to improve their lifestyle to reduce the risk."Rosengren said. "In the long term, our findings could also lead to new methods of treating type 2 diabetes by developing ways of blocking the protein SFRP4 in the insulin-producing beta cells and reducing inflammation, thereby protecting the cells."

The study “Secreted Frizzled-Related Protein 4 Reduces Insulin Secretion and is Overexpressed in Type 2 Diabetes,” was published in the November edition of the journal Cell Metabolism. It can be found here. [See also: Lifestyle changes improve health and reduce disability in people with type 2 diabetes]

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