Researchers find amino acids that increase type 2 diabetes risk

Measuring five amino acids in the blood may help doctors identify patients who are at the greatest risk of developing type 2 diabetes decades before they present symptoms, according to a new study from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The test may even help doctors screen patients who have traditional risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as tobacco use and obesity, to see who among these groups are the most likely to develop the disease.

Researchers said that their findings, which were published in the journal Nature Medicine, are important because early detection is one of the most critical parts of treating the condition. Onset of diabetes happens gradually. When the process begins, there is often time to reverse the metabolic changes through lifestyle. The new test may help doctors recommend these alterations only to the patients who need them the most.

For the study, researchers tracked 2,400 participants for a period of 12 years. They took blood samples at the beginning of the investigation and continued to examine individuals' medical records. The results showed that participants who had higher levels of the amino acids isoleucine, leucine, valine, tyrosine and phenylalanine were significantly more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

"These findings could provide insight into metabolic pathways that are altered very early in the process leading to diabetes," said Thomas Wang, who led the study. "They also raise the possibility that, in selected individuals, these measurements could identify those at highest risk of developing diabetes so that early preventive measures could be instituted."

He added that further studies should be conducted to see if these amino acids are a contributing factor to the development of type 2 diabetes or whether they are simply a product of other mechanisms that increase risk.