New blood biomarker predicts type 2 diabetes ‘many years’ before diagnosis, research reveals

By Editor
12th November 2021
Research, Type 2 diabetes Type 2 prevention

A large study has identified a certain protein found in the blood which can predict type 2 diabetes “up to 19 years before” the onset of the disease.

Scientists from Lund University in Sweden have revealed that they can identify whether somebody will go on to develop type 2 diabetes by examining follistatin proteins circulating in the blood.

Type 2 diabetes is a growing global epidemic, with six per cent of the world population suffering from the disease.

However, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes can be greatly reduced by weight control, eating well and exercising before the actual manifestation of the disease.

Early detection of type 2 diabetes before symptoms could help minimise an individual’s health complications related to diabetes.

Dr. Yang De Marinis, associate professor at Lund University and lead author of the study said: “We found that higher levels of the protein follistatin circulating in the blood predict type 2 diabetes up to 19 years before the onset of the disease, regardless of other known risk factors, such as age, body mass index (BMI), fasting blood glucose levels, diet or physical activity.”

This discovery is based on studies that followed 5,318 people over the course of four to 19 years in two different locations in Sweden and Finland.

Follistatin is a protein that is mainly secreted from the liver and involved in the regulation of metabolism. The study investigated what happens to the body when follistatin in the blood circulation becomes too high.

Using clinical data from the German Tübingen Diabetes Family Study and cell biology investigation, the researchers found that follistatin promotes fat breakdown from the adipose tissue, resulting in increased lipid accumulation in the liver. This in turn increases the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes.

To find out what regulates blood follistatin levels, the researchers performed genome-wide association study (GWAS) on 5,124 people from Sweden, the UK and Italy, and revealed that follistatin levels are genetically regulated by glucokinase regulatory protein (GCKR), which impact on several metabolic traits.

“This study shows that follistatin has the potential to become an important biomarker to predict future type 2 diabetes, and it also brings us one step closer to the understanding of the mechanisms behind the disease,” says Dr Marinis

The next step is to put the results into clinical use. An AI-based diagnostic tool using follistatin as a biomarker for type 2 diabetes is being developed through the biotech start-up Lundoch Diagnostics, where Dr Marinis is the CEO.

The tool aims to provide a simple blood test, where results from a protein biomarker panel can be imputed in an AI-driven algorithm, and ultimately give patients a risk score to assess their risk of future type 2 diabetes.  

Dr Marinis concludes: “This discovery holds the opportunity of instituting measures to prevent type 2 diabetes from becoming established. Our research will continue towards this goal.” concludes Dr Marinis

The research has been published in Nature Communications.

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