Scientists have identified a biomarker that can predict diabetes risk up to 10 years before symptoms signal the onset of the disease.
The discovery — published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation by researchers at the Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital — suggests a simple blood test may one day be able to flag individuals who are likely to develop the metabolic disorder long before it takes hold and potentially help to prevent it.
Thomas J. Wang, M.D., director of cardiology at Vanderbilt, said the findings are based on a study of 188 individuals who developed Type 2 diabetes and another 188 individuals without diabetes who were followed for 12 years as participants in the Framingham Heart Study.
"From the baseline blood samples, we identified a novel biomarker, 2-aminoadipic acid [2-AAA], that was higher in people who went on to develop diabetes than in those who did not," Wang said. "That information was above and beyond knowing their blood sugar at baseline, knowing whether they were obese, or had other characteristics that put them at risk."
Individuals who had high concentrations of 2-AAA concentrations were four times as likely to develop diabetes during the 12-year study, compared with people with the lowest levels. The researchers believe 2-AAA alters the way blood sugar is processed and may influence the function of the pancreas, which is responsible for making insulin, the hormone that tells the body to take up glucose.
"The caveat with these new biomarkers is that they require further evaluation in other populations and further work to determine how this information might be used clinically," Wang said. "But these experimental data are intriguing in that this molecule could be contributing in some manner to the development of the disease itself."
Type 2 diabetes strikes up to 10 percent of adults in the United States and is more prevalent among obese and overweight individuals, who comprise two-thirds of adults.
"Diabetes is common and the prevalence will only rise in coming years fueled by the rise of obesity. Understanding why diabetes occurs and how it might be prevented is a very intense area of investigation because of the serious consequences of having the disease," Wang said.
"It is certainly a focus of many research groups to understand how we might develop strategies to detect diabetes risk at an earlier stage and intervene."
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