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Diabetes - Picking up the early distress signals

Munich, 06/01/2012

Diabetes is often diagnosed late, at a time when the insulin-producing beta-cells in the pancreas have already suffered serious damage. Newly identified biomarkers in the blood may betray the presence of the condition at an earlier stage, allowing for more timely and effective therapeutic intervention.

The incidence of diabetes worldwide has been rising for years. The metabolic changes that herald the development of full-blown diabetes begin long before the condition becomes clinically manifest. However, in the vast majority of cases, the early warning signs are overlooked. If the earliest stages of metabolic dysfunction could be reliably detected before the insulin-producing beta-cells in the pancreas have been irreparably damaged, therapeutic intervention would be far more effective. “That is why it is so important to identify biochemical indicators of the metabolic alterations that are characteristic of the prediabetic phase of the disease,” says Eckhard Wolf, Professor of Molecular Animal Breeding and Biotechnology at LMU. To facilitate the search for such biomarkers, Wolf and his colleagues have developed a genetically modified pig model in which the normal post-natal proliferation of beta-cells in the pancreas is impaired and glucose control is progressively disrupted. This strain therefore provides the opportunity to screen for biochemical changes which are associated with the prediabetic phase.

Early diagnosis facilitates effective therapy
Glucose metabolism in the pig closely resembles the pattern seen in humans, which makes the pig a suitable model system in which to search for biomarkers that reveal prediabetic changes in metabolism. In cooperation with collaborators at the Helmholtz Center in Munich, Wolf’s group took blood samples from their special pig model at two age groups, and looked for correlations between the concentrations of various metabolites in blood plasma and the mass of insulin-producing cells present in the pancreas. They found that the levels of several amino acids and lipid species were significantly correlated with the mass of insulin-producing cells present in the pancreas at each of the two timepoints. “If these potential biomarkers can be confirmed in future studies of appropriate patient populations, one would have some interesting indicators of the earliest stages in the development of diabetes; one then could initiate therapy much earlier and with correspondingly greater chances of success,” Wolf predicts. (Diabetes online, April 2012) göd

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