In a new study, researchers discovered an early sign of type 2 diabetes: Misfolded proinsulin.
Misfolded proinsulin is a protein the body normally processes into insulin. It is an early sign of type 2 diabetes
The discovery could lead to tests or treatments that help prevent people from developing type 2 diabetes.
The research was conducted by a team at Sanford Burnham Prebys and the University of Michigan.
More than one in three Americans, or approximately 88 million people, have pre-diabetes—which is characterized by elevated blood sugar.
If left untreated, within four years nearly 40% of people with pre-diabetes develop type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body doesn’t use insulin properly.
In 2017, the cost of treating diabetes exceeded $327 billion, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Due to increasing obesity rates, the number of people with the condition—particularly children—is on the rise.
Identifying the molecular events that occur during progression from pre-diabetes to full-blown diabetes remains one of the most perplexing problems in diabetes research.
In the study, the scientists set out to answer this question by tracking proinsulin folding in the beta cells of humans and mice that are healthy, pre-diabetic and diabetic.
They found that instead of undergoing its normal folding process, proinsulin proteins were abnormally linked to each other. Levels of the abnormal proinsulin accumulated as pre-diabetes progressed to type 2 diabetes.
Obese mice in the earliest stages of diabetes had the highest levels of abnormal proinsulin in their beta cells.
The team says proinsulin misfolding is the earliest known event that may contribute to the progression from prediabetes to diabetes.
Together, these studies show that abnormally linked proinsulin holds promise as a potential measure of how close someone may be to developing type 2 diabetes.
With this information, scientists can start to find interventions that might spare millions of people from a serious, lifelong condition.
One author of the study is Randal Kaufman, Ph.D., the director and professor in the Degenerative Diseases Program.
The study is published in eLife.
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