Study determines potential cause for diabetes-cancer link

Individuals with type 2 diabetes are known to be at a higher risk for developing certain forms of cancer. However, medical professionals have been largely unclear on some of the potential causes for this correlation.

Now, a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School has reported in the journal Cell that varying levels of two proteins may be the common denominator between cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Their study revealed that mice fed a high-fat diet were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes when they had higher levels of the proteins Lin28a and Lin28b. These same proteins have previously been identified as playing a role in an individual's risk of developing certain forms of cancer.

"This highlights the overlap in the biology of these disorders," said George Daley, one of the researchers who participated in the study. "It may be the same kinds of metabolic shifts that allow cancer cells to grow are also related to [whole-body] glucose metabolism."

He added that the findings provide a solid molecular pathway through which both cancer and diabetes risk may be impacted. This could lead to the development of new medications that target this process and simultaneously reduce a person's chances of developing either condition.

The findings also show that high blood sugar levels are not the cause of increased cancer risk among diabetics, as has previously been speculated. This knowledge could help direct the course of future research in more productive directions, as a number of investigations have already focused on the correlation between high blood sugar and diabetes-related complications.