DNA in blood marks beta cell loss, could track diabetes

Destruction of the insulin-producing β cells in the pancreas causes type 1 diabetes, which requires daily treatment with insulin. There are few symptoms of this destruction in the early stages, until patients begin to show the signs of diabetes. Researchers in the U.S. and Israel have spotted a DNA biomarker linked with development of the disease.

The researchers found an increase in β cell-derived DNA in the blood of mice developing diabetes, either naturally occurring, or induced by doses of streptozotocin. This is the first biomarker for β cell loss, and the researchers believe that it could be used to give early warning, opening up possibilities for early diagnosis and ways to monitor treatment and track disease progression. It may have a use in type 2 diabetes, which can also result in loss of insulin production.

Lead researcher Kevan C. Herold, M.D., professor of immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine and principal investigator of the Yale Autoimmunity Center of Excellence, says "[w[]e have known for more than 40 years that type 1 and type 2 diabetes result from loss of insulin producing cells but we have never been able to detect the loss of these cells until it is too late and blood sugar levels rise. We are very eager to extend our studies to see if we can detect increased rates of beta cell death before the onset of disease as well as the effects of immune therapies on this process."

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