An easy and inexpensive test to predict diabetes up to 10 years before the onset of the disease may soon be a reality. A team led by Swedish researchers from the Lund University Diabetes Centre has identified a gene responsible for a protein in the hormone-secreting cells of the pancreas, which is associated with reduced production of insulin in patients of Type 2 diabetes.
As per a study published in the journal Cell Metabolism, Gene ‘SFRP4’, behind the release of protein 4, could be an effective biomarker to predict diabetes well ahead of the appearance of its symptoms. Diabetologists in India say the development holds out the possibility of a prospective patient incorporating lifestyle modifications well ahead of time to delay or prevent onset of the disease.
According to estimates of the International Diabetes Federation, India has 63 million — or more than 9 per cent of its population — suffering from the disease. An estimated 90 per cent of the cases are of Type 2, caused by insufficient amounts of insulin being available for reduction of blood glucose levels.
The team, which also included researchers from the US, China, Spain and Switzerland, explored the pathophysiology of Type 2 diabetes and found the SFRP4 gene was overexpressed in the islet cells of the pancreas of patients with this disease. “ SFRP4 expression correlated with inflammatory markers... SFRP4 thus provides a link between islet inflammation and impaired insulin secretion. Moreover, the protein was increased in serum from T2D patients several years before the diagnosis, suggesting that SFRP4 could be a potential biomarker for islet dysfunction,” they concluded.
People with higher levels of the protein may be up to five times more likely to get diabetes than those with similar body weight, lifestyle etc.
The study is exciting not just because the search for a biomarker/genetic marker for diabetes has been “going on forever” but because the link that the researchers have established between the inflammation of the insulin-secreting part of the pancreas — a known fact — with the decrease in insulin output through the SFRP4 gene actually joins the dots fairly well, said Dr Ambrish Mithal, chairman and head of department, division of endocrinology and diabetes, Medanta Medicity.
“A biomarker for diabetes is considered the Holy Grail,” said Dr Anoop Misra, director and head, department of diabetes and metabolic diseases, Fortis Hospital.