Discovery of a molecule that can identify the evolution of diabetes

Discovery of a molecule that can identify the evolution of diabetes

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Diabetes is an increasingly common disease. If detected early enough, disease progression can be reversed, but diagnostic tools that allow for early detection are lacking.

Researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and other institutions have found that a decline in the blood concentration of the sugar 1,5-anhydroglucitol indicates a loss of functional beta cells.

This molecule, which can be easily detected through a blood test, can be used to detect the onset of diabetes in at-risk individuals before it becomes irreversible, according to Tech Explorist.

Pierre Maechler, professor in the Department of Cell Physiology and Metabolism at the Diabetes Center at the UNIGE School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

“The identification of the transition from pre-diabetes to diabetes is complex because the state of the affected cells, which are dispersed in very small amounts in the nucleus of an organ located under the liver, the pancreas, is impossible to assess quantitatively through non-invasive investigations“, says Pierre Maechler, professor in the Department of Cell Physiology and Metabolism at the Diabetes Center of the Faculty of Medicine of UNIGE and lead author of the study.

“We therefore opted for an alternative strategy: to find a molecule whose levels in the blood were associated with the functional mass of these beta cells to indirectly detect their change in the pre-diabetes phase, before the appearance of any symptoms”, he adds.

Scientists began to work on discovery of a molecule who could identify prediabetes for years. Hundreds of chemicals were analyzed in healthy, pre-diabetic and diabetic mouse models.

The team was able to select, among thousands of molecules, the one that best reflects a loss of beta cells in the pre-diabetic phase — 1,5-anhydroglucitol, a small sugar, whose decrease in the blood would indicate a deficit in beta cells.

This was achieved by combining powerful molecular biology techniques with a machine learning (artificial intelligence) system.

The research team, under the leadership of Pierre Maechler, was encouraged by these findings in mice and moved on to the next stage, which involved evaluating their applicability to humans.

They examined the levels of 1,5-anhydroglucitol in diabetic patients with non-diabetic patients, in collaboration with several scientists, including teams from the HUG.

“We were able to observe a decrease in this sugar in diabetics. This was quite motivating, especially since this decline was observable regardless of their symptoms, even before the onset of diabetes”, emphasizes Cecilia Jiménez-Sánchez, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Cell Physiology and Metabolism.

The results of the study carried out by the vast team of scientists were published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in July.

“The diabetes it’s a complex disease, in which many metabolic changes occur in parallel. It was therefore essential to test the relevance of this marker in people who suffer a sudden loss of their beta cells, but in the absence of metabolic disturbances”, explains Pierre Maechler.

“By studying the level of 1,5-anhydroglucitol in individuals whose half of the pancreas had been surgically removed, we were able to demonstrate that 1,5-anhydroglucitol is a blood indicator of the functional amount of pancreatic beta cells”, he emphasizes.

“This discovery opens up new avenues for diabetes prevention, particularly for people at risk. A simple blood sample followed by an inexpensive specific test can identify a potential onset of diabetes in these people, so that action can be taken, before the situation becomes irreversible “, indicates the lead author of the study.

“We still plan to test the relevance of this sugar in different types of patients and at different time scales, but it may lead to great progress in monitoring people at risk”, concludes Pierre Maechler.

Alice Carqueja, ZAP //

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