(RxWiki News) Often, patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have already had the disease for several years, which means damage may have already taken place. A test to spot diabetes risk earlier could help doctors prevent such damage.
A simple blood test could help identify patients who are at risk of diabetes at an early stage in the disease process, according to a recent study.
While the test is not yet available for clinical use, it may one day help doctors pinpoint at-risk patients before diabetes starts to take a toll on their blood vessels and eyes.
"Get screened for diabetes if you're overweight."
Anders Rosengren, MD, of Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden, and colleagues found that higher levels of a certain protein may be a sign of diabetes risk.
"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 Dr. Rosengren.
SFRP4 is known to play a role in inflammation - a key characteristic of diabetes and many other diseases.
This study is the first to establish a link between SFRP4 and type 2 diabetes. It is also the first study to confirm the link between inflammation in beta cells (the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin) and diabetes.
Insulin plays a central role in type 2 diabetes. Insulin is a hormone that helps turn sugar in the blood into energy for the body. In people with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, leading to high blood sugar and potential complications.
"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," said Taman Mahdi, MD, of Lund University and one of the researchers involved in the study.
Over the course of the study, 37 percent of participants who had higher than normal levels of SFRP4 developed diabetes. Only 9 percent of those with lower than normal levels of the protein went on to develop diabetes.
According to Dr. Rosengren, these findings suggest the protein may be a strong sign of risk that is present several years before patients are diagnosed with diabetes.
Dr. Rosengren added that results also showed how SFRP4 may weaken the production of insulin. Therefore, the protein may not only be a sign of increased risk but also a sign of an ongoing disease process, he said.
The protein is a sign of diabetes risk regardless of other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as obesity and age.
"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 for them to improve their lifestyle to reduce the risk," said Dr. Rosengren.
For their study, the researchers compared donated insulin-producing beta cells from people with diabetes to beta cells of those without diabetes. Their findings showed that diabetic cells had much higher levels of SFRP4 than non-diabetic cells.
The study was published November 7 in Cell Metabolism.