Experts think that a simple blood test could revolutionise the treatment of diabetes by giving doctors the chance to spot the disease 10 years before symptoms start.
US-based researchers were able to correctly identify people who went on to develop type 2 diabetes by examining the levels of five amino acids in their blood.
The Harvard team hopes that tests like this could eventually be used to screen for type 2 diabetes.
The research, which has been published in Nature Medicine, emphasises that early detection of the disease could prevent related complications such as blindness.
Dr Victoria King, head of research at Diabetes UK, said: “Early diagnosis and effective management of type 2 diabetes are crucial in reducing the risk of developing diabetes complications, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and amputation.
“Therefore finding ways to identify those who are at risk of developing the condition are important.
“This research, in future, could lead to ways to help us identify those at risk as well as giving us new insights into how and why type 2 diabetes develops.”
Type 2 diabetes has been strongly linked to being overweight, leading a sedentary lifestyle and eating an unhealthy diet.
Dr King explained that in many cases it can be prevented or delayed by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and weight.
Aside from keeping an eye on a person’s weight and blood sugar, doctors have had little else they can use to identify at risk individuals.
The test used in the study looks for levels of small molecules in the blood. Among the 2,422 health volunteers tested, 201 later went on to develop diabetes.
- Wang TJ et al. Metabolite profiles and the risk of developing diabetes. Nature, Medicine 2011; Advance online publication
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