A blood test could identify those at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes up to ten years in advance, a new study claims.
Researchers at the Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC) have for the first time established a link between a protein called SFRP4 and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The study, which is published in the journal Cell Metabolism, found that those with above-average levels of the protein in their blood were significantly more likely to develop the condition – irrespective of other risk factors such as age and waist size.
Increased risk of Type 2 diabetes
Levels of SFRP4 in the blood of people without diabetes were measured three times at intervals of three years. Thirty-seven per cent of those who had higher-than-average levels went on to develop Type 2 diabetes. Among those with a lower-than-average level, only nine per cent developed the condition.
SFRP4 is associated with inflammatory processes within the body. Taman Mahdi, main author of the study, said, "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."
Anders Rosengren of the LUDC said, "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.
Work necessary for a complete understanding
Dr Matthew Hobbs, Head of Research at Diabetes UK, said, "The researchers behind this work have gone further than just identifying a new gene that affects the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes – they have also performed a number of experiments to try to understand the processes that are controlled by it. This is the kind of work that is needed to help us get a complete understanding of what causes Type 2 diabetes and, further down the line, to develop new treatments.
Online risk test
"The researchers also claim that this work may lead to a new test for Type 2 diabetes. We would welcome any new methods for identifying people at high risk of Type 2 diabetes, but further research is needed to assess how effective this new method is compared to current methods. For now, people can assess their risk using our Diabetes Risk Score test."