A test that could diagnose diabetes years earlier than the current method is being developed by scientists.
The early warning could help prevent debilitating and deadly complications, such as strokes and heart attacks, blindness, kidney disease and nerve and circulatory damage.
The blood test detects type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, which accounts for 90 per cent of the more than three million Britons with diabetes.
At the moment, the illness is diagnosed by testing for high sugar levels in the blood. But researchers from the University of Manchester and King’s College London say that by the time blood sugar is raised, some of the damage caused by the disease in its early stages has already been done. To find out whether testing for other compounds such as fatty molecules would give an earlier result, they studied almost 100 women who had been classed at high, medium or low risk of diabetes two years earlier.
Although their blood sugar levels were normal, there were differences in other compounds in the blood, including some found in fat, as well as vitamin D and some proteins.
Differences were also found in their blood vessels, with those at high risk of developing diabetes having the least healthy arteries and veins. All complications associated with diabetes – from blindness to heart attacks and strokes – are thought to stem from blood vessel damage.
The researchers are refining the test and say it could be used widely in five years to warn of type 2 diabetes months or even years early.
Researcher Kennedy Cruickshank, of King’s College London, said: ‘The current method of categorising type 2 diabetes solely by a patient’s glucose levels means that many will already have suffered blood vessel damage and so will experience poorer outcomes.’
The new test may lead to a change in the definition of type 2 diabetes so that those who test positive are said to have it, rather than merely be at risk of it, he added.
The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, could also lead to new drugs for diabetes.
Professor Cruickshank said that existing treatments that focus on lowering blood sugar levels help in the short term, and patients should still take them.
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