Circulating microRNAs may be an effective predictor of how a young person with type 2 diabetes will respond to treatment, researchers have said.

It is the first time that microRNAs, which affect insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, have been investigated for their ability to predict how type 2 diabetes progresses and develops in young people.

The findings “add a layer of understanding that we haven’t had before”, scientists say, and sheds more light on processes that need to be understood in order to develop effective strategies for prevention.

The research found that measuring microRNAs were almost as effective at predicting how well someone with the condition will fare as the conventional method of measuring the level of sugar in the blood (A1C), also known as HbA1c.

Treatment failure was classified as having an A1C of greater than 8% for six months or a situation that caused the study participant to resume insulin treatment.

Circulating microRNAs were also effective at predicting a 20% decrease in beta cell function during the first six months of the study period.

The specific microRNAs explored in the study play a role in insulin resistance and other processes that can stress beta cells or cause their death.

The number of children and young people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is dramatically rising.

In the United States, the rate is increasing so rapidly that its prevalence is expected to increase by 700% by 2060.

Jeanie Tryggestad, an associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, led the study, which involved 699 participants.

She said that for the first time, more young people aged 15 to 19 have type 2 diabetes than type 1 diabetes, adding: “Type 2 diabetes in youth is so aggressive, and the decline of beta cell function in youth is much more than we see in adults.

“We believe that predicting what will cause beta cell dysfunction, and eventually preventing that dysfunction, is one of the keys for preventing or treating type 2 diabetes.”

Tryggestad said: “Glucose and A1C are relevant to me as a clinician, but as a clinician-researcher, it’s important to have this additional piece of information about microRNAs because it points us toward a mechanism. It’s the mechanism that we need to understand to design a prevention. It adds a layer of understanding that we haven’t had before.”

Read the full study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

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