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Metabolite levels identify people at increased diabetes risk

Metabolite levels may indicate elevated diabetes risk as much as a several years before the appearance of the disease symptoms. Thus, early prophylactic measures could be implemented.

Metabolites are small molecules produced by metabolic processes and released into the blood. The team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital discovered that levels of five amino acids may identify people at increased diabetes risk. These molecules also enable to determine individuals most likely to become diabetic in the group with customary risk factors such as obesity.

Type 2 diabetes appears after several years of breakdown in metabolizing glucose. Early identification of individuals at diabetes risk makes possible to prevent the disease by lifestyle changes and preventive treatment. Such traditional risk factors as obesity and increased glucose levels often indicate that diabetes has already developed. New technologies enable to investigate individual's metabolic status and assess their risk of diabetes a decade before symptoms appear.

Previous studies demonstrated elevated levels of some amino acids in patients who are overweight or have insulin resistance. But they didn’t examine if the levels of these or other metabolites may forebode the development of diabetes in healthy individuals. The researchers used data about adult children of participants in one of heart studies. During 12 years 200 of them out of 2,400 developed type 2 diabetes.

The scientists measured the metabolite levels in blood samples of 189 individuals who later got the disease and of 189 others who didn’t. The research found that increased levels of five amino acids – isoleucine, leucine, valine, tyrosine and phenylalanine – associate with the type 2 diabetes development. According to other studies several of these metabolites are also elevated in individuals who are overweight or have insulin resistance. They may directly influence glucose regulation. Additional studies are needed to illuminate which failures in metabolic pathways may contribute to diabetes development.

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