Protein warning

Print edition : December 14, 2012

WHEN a patient is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the disease has usually already progressed over several years, and damage to areas such as blood vessels and eyes has already taken place. To find a test that indicates who is at risk at an early stage would be valuable as it would enable preventive treatment to be put in place.

Researchers at Lund University, Sweden, recently identified a promising candidate for such a test. The findings were published in the journal Cell Metabolism. 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 Anders Rosengren, of the Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC), who led the work.

It is the first time a link has been established between SFRP4, which plays a role in inflammatory processes in the body, and the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Studies at the LUDC, in which donated insulin-producing beta cells from diabetic individuals and non-diabetic individuals were compared, showed that cells from diabetics had significantly higher levels of the protein. It is also the first time that the link between inflammation in beta cells and diabetes has been proven.

The level of SFRP4 in the blood of non-diabetics was measured three times at intervals of three years. Thirty-seven per cent 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 per cent 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, added Rosengren. Significantly, the marker works independently of other known risk factors for Type 2 diabetes such as obesity and age.

Complied by R. Ramachandran

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