Diabetes Treatment Could Start Earlier Thanks to Newly Discovered Protein Risk Factor


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Researchers at Sweden's Lund University have identified a "promising candidate" for a test that will indicate an early risk for type 2 diabetes.

“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, a researcher at the Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC).

According to researchers, SFRP$ plays a role in inflammatory processes in the body, but this is the first time it has been linked to the risk of type 2 diabetes. It is also the first time inflammation in beta cells and diabetes have been linked.

“The theory has been that low-grade chronic inflammation weakens the beta cells so that they are no longer able to secrete sufficient insulin," said Taman Mahdi, lead author of the study. "There are no doubt multiple reasons for the weakness, but the SFRP4 protein is one of them.

The LUDC studies measured the level of SFRP4 in the blood of non-diabetic patients yearly for three years. 37% of patients who had higher than average SFRP4 levels developed diabetes during the study. Of those who had a lower than average level, 9% developed diabetes. The studies also showed that cells from diabetics have "significantly" higher levels of SFRP4. The protein marker risk factor was demonstrated to work independently from other risk factors, such as obesity and age.

“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," said Rosengren. "The marker therefore reflects not only an increased risk, but also an ongoing disease process.

“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 to them to improve their lifestyle to reduce the risk. 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.”