Scientists believe a blood test could help detect type 2 diabetes early

by Sarita Sheth on November 22, 2012

Above average levels of the protein SFRP4 could indicate risk of type 2

A blood test could identify those at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes up to ten years in advance, according to new study that links a protein called SFRP4 with the risk of developing the condition.

Researchers at the Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC) in Sweden 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.

When someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes it has usually already progressed over several years and damage to areas such as blood vessels and eyes has already taken place. Identifying a test that indicates who is at risk at an early stage would enable preventive treatment to be put in place.

‘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 lead researcher Anders Rosengren.

The study compared donated insulin producing beta cells from diabetic individuals and non-diabetic individuals and found that cells from diabetics have significantly higher levels of the protein. It is also the first time the link between inflammation in beta cells and diabetes has been proven.

‘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, main author of the study and one of the researchers in Anders Rosengren’s group.

The level of the protein SFRP4 in the blood of non-diabetics was measured three times at intervals of three years. Some 37% of those who had higher than average levels developed diabetes during the period of the study. Among those with a lower than average level, only 9% developed the condition.

‘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,’ explained Rosengren.

The research also found that the marker works independently of other known risk factors for type 2 diabetes, for example 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 10 years before the disease develops, this could provide strong motivation to them to improve their lifestyle to reduce the risk,’ said Rosengren.

‘In the long term, our findings could also lead to new methods of treating type 2 diabetes by developing ways of blocking the protein SFRP4 in the insulin producing beta cells and reducing inflammation, thereby protecting the cells,’ he added.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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