New research published in Nature Communications shows a new type of biomarker that can predict the risk of type 2 diabetes.  

The biomarker, discovered by scientists at Lund Unviersity in Sweden, detects epigenetic changes in specific genes through a blood test. By measuring HbA1c levels they can then help predict the onset of diabetes, but the “predictive potential of this method is modest.” This discovery has made it possible to measure the presence of DNA methylations in 4 specific genes, and thus predict those at risk for type 2 diabetes well before its onset. 

Karl Bacos, researcher at Lund University, and colleagues studied insulin-producing beta cells from 87 deceased persons. They noted that the DNA methylations in the 4 genes studied increased, depending on the donor’s age, which in turn affected activity of the genes. When replicated in cultured beta cells, researchers saw a positive effect on insulin secretion. 

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They then compared blood samples from participants enrolled in Danish and Finnish research projects, with blood samples drawn again from the same participants 10 years later. The Finnish patients with higher levels of DNA methylation in their first sample, had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes 10 years later. In the Danish patients, higher DNA methylation in their first sample was linked to higher insulin secretion 10 years later. 

All of the Danish patients were healthy on both study points whereas about 1/3 of the Finnish patients had developed type 2 diabetes. 

Researchers added, “Increased insulin secretion actually protects against type 2 diabetes. It could be the body’s way of protecting itself when other tissue becomes resistant to insulin, which often happens as we get older.” They hope to continue research to find markers with a stronger predictive potential by implementing so-called epigenetic whole-genome sequencing in a larger cohort. 

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