Type 2 Diabetes Risk Identified Early with Blood Test
Imagine if there were an early warning indicator for type 2 diabetes, which could then allow individuals to take preventive steps long before the disease had a chance to take hold. Such a warning approach may be on the horizon, thanks to researchers at Lund University.
Can a simple blood test warn of diabetes?
Early signs of type 2 diabetes are not really "early" in the sense that by the time they appear, the disease has already begun to damage the body, placing individuals at risk for future complications. Those early signs include excessive thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, unexplained weight loss, severe fatigue and irritability, frequent infections, cuts that heal exceedingly slowly, tingling or numbness in the toes or fingers, and blurry vision.
But now researchers in Sweden report that a simple blood test may provide a true early warning of type 2 diabetes. They report that people who have abnormally high levels of SFRP4, a protein with inflammatory properties that is found in the blood, are five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes within a few years than are those who have SFRP4 levels that are below average.
Researchers measured SFRP4 levels three times over a three-year period and discovered that 37 percent of individuals with higher than normal protein levels developed diabetes during the study, compared with only 9 percent of those who had lower than average levels.
This study was also notable for several other reasons. For example:
- The authors discovered how the protein damages insulin secretion which, according to Anders Rosengren, who headed the research, "reflects not only an increased risk, but also an ongoing disease process."
- It was the first time scientists found a link between diabetes and inflammation in beta cells (the pancreatic cells that release insulin). This is important because SFRP4 has been identified as one of the reasons why chronic inflammation prevents beta cells from secreting enough insulin
- Abnormally high SFRP4 levels appear to have an impact on type 2 diabetes risk independent of other known factors, such as age (older than 45) and obesity. Other risk factors for type 2 diabetes include impaired glucose tolerance and/or impaired fasting glucose, a family history of diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and among women, those who have had gestational diabetes.
The bottom line
If this new blood test is able to accurately and effectively warn of an increased risk of type 2 diabetes up to a full decade before the condition develops, "this could provide strong motivation to them to improve their lifestyle to reduce the risk," noted Rosengren. The blood test also could help researchers find new treatments for type 2 diabetes that involve blocking SFRP4.
Mahdi T et al. Secreted frizzled-related protein 4 reduces insulin secretion and is overexpressed in type 2 diabetes. Cell Metabolism 2012 Nov 7; 16(5): 625-33