According to scientists, analysing changes to the DNA in someone’s blood can help predict a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes more accurately.

Researchers examined the influence of changes in DNA, DNA methylation, together with other risk factors in 14,613 volunteers in the Generation Scotland study. The data was used to analyse whether it was possible to predict a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes years before symptoms begin.

Findings from the study, conducted by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, can lead to preventative measures being introduced earlier to limit the burden of type 2 diabetes on a person’s health and the economy.

Researchers found that including DNA methylation, a chemical process when methyl is added to DNA, alongside other risk factors for type 2 diabetes such as age, sex and BMI, can more accurately predict the risk of developing the disease.

According to the study: “Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2D) presents a major health and economic burden that could be alleviated with improved early prediction and intervention.

“While standard risk factors have shown good predictive performance, we show that the use of blood-based DNA methylation information leads to a significant improvement in the prediction of 10-year T2D incidence risk.”

These results were then used to approximate the predictive performance in a theoretical screening scenario of 10,000 people, of which one third will develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years.

The model that also used DMA methylation, compared to that which only used traditional risk factors, correctly identified an additional 449 individuals.

Researchers duplicated the same study on 1,451 individuals from a study based in Germany to make sure that the findings would be the same despite the groups being from a different background.

Yipeng Cheng, a PhD student from the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine, said: “It is promising that our findings were observed in the Scottish and German studies with both showing an improvement in prediction above and beyond commonly used risk factors. Delaying onset is important as diabetes is a risk factor for other common diseases, including dementias.”

The study’s principal investigator, Professor Riccardo Marioni, also from the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine, added: “Similar approaches could be taken for other common diseases to generate broad health predictors from a single blood or saliva sample. We are incredibly grateful for our study volunteers who make this research possible – the more people that join our study, the more precisely we can identify signals that will help delay or reduce the onset of diseases as we age.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Aging and can be read in full here.

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