Researchers have found a blood protein that could predict Type 2 diabetes years in advance, according to a study published in the journal Cell Metabolism. Type 2 diabetes is a complex disorder, linked with lifestyle, environment and genetics, and diagnosis is often too late--the damage to sight, kidneys, nerves and heart has already begun.
The researchers compared the levels of a protein, SFRP4 (secreted frizzled-related protein 4), in the blood of people without diabetes three times at three-year intervals, and found that those with above-average levels of the protein were 5 times more likely to develop diabetes in the next few years than those with below-average levels.
"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," says Anders Rosengren of the Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC).
This is the first time that researchers have linked this protein to diabetes risk, and the first confirmation of a connection between beta cell inflammation and diabetes.
Knowing who is at risk would mean that doctors could carry out regular screens and start preventive treatment, and patients could take the chance to make lifestyle changes that could at least slow the onset of the disease.
"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 10 years before the disease develops, this could provide strong motivation to them to improve their lifestyle to reduce the risk," says Rosengren.
The markers and the inflammation could also be targets to develop new drugs.