A new method of assessing beta cell death has been proposed, potentially enabling doctors to predict the development of type 1 diabetes.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigatio, suggested that levels of unmethylated insulin DNA indicate the death of beta cells, and therefore the likelihood of type 1 diabetes developing.
Presently, the existence of specific antibodies can identify some people as being more at risk of type 1 diabetes than others. A large proportion of individuals with a greater risk of type 1 diabetes then experience the death of beta cells, before exhibiting symptoms of type 1 diabetes.
But the way that beta cells are destroyed – thus leading to the development of type 1 diabetes – is not yet well understood.
This research suggests that a more accurate evaluation of beta cell death can be made by examining the amount of unmethylated insulin DNA in the blood.
The study was conducted by establishing two separate groups: “healthy” participants and participants who were considered to be at risk of type 1 diabetes.
The researchers hypothesised that unmethylated insulin DNA would be found only in the case of significant beta cell death.
The individuals considered at risk of type 1 diabetes had significantly higher levels of unmethylated insulin DNA. And the more beta cell function was reduced, the more unmethylated insulin DNA there was to be found. As beta cell function decreased, and the at-risk participants got close to the onset of type 1 diabetes symptoms, the levels of unmethylated insulin DNA increased.
The results suggests that the presence of unmethylated insulin DNA can provide a marker of beta cell death, potentially allowing for a more reliable way to predict the onset of type 1 diabetes.
The authors write: “In at risk individuals that progressed to T1D, the observed increases in unmethylated INS DNA were associated with decreases in insulin secretio, indicating that the changes in unmethylated INS DNA are indicative of beta cell killing.
“The data support the concept that beta cell killing occurs sporadically during the years prior to diagnosis of T1D and is more intense in the prediagnosis period.”
Source: J Clin Invest. 2015. doi:10.1172/JCI78142.

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