Campus & Community

Biomarker identifies diabetes risk in women

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Blood test can ID inflammation that is underlying risk factor for cardiovascular disease and diabetes

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have found that elevated levels of a biomarker that corresponds to a condition in which arteries do not dilate properly can be an indicator of type 2 diabetes risk in women. In addition, endothelial dysfunction – the inflammatory condition in which arteries do not dilate properly – is also an indicator of cardiovascular disease, leading researchers to believe that it could be an underlying link between the two epidemics. The findings are published in the April 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

According to study author JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at BWH, “This biomarker appears to be one of the strongest identified predictors of type 2 diabetes, leading to a fivefold increase in risk after controlling for known risk factors. In addition, results from this study provide evidence that endothelial dysfunction and associated inflammation could be one of the links between diabetes and cardiovascular disease, two major epidemics.”

For this study, Manson and her colleagues analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health study. During 1989-1990, 32,826 women, most of whom were in their 50s and 60s, provided blood samples to the study, with 737 of these women developing type 2 diabetes by 2000. In this sample, women had significantly higher levels of endothelial dysfunction biomarkers as compared with the diabetes-free group. In addition, those women who did develop type 2 diabetes also shared several characteristics including higher body mass index (BMI), a family history of diabetes, a less favorable diet score, and less physical activity.

“This study contributes to the growing list of factors that identify individuals at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes,” said Manson, who is also a professor of medicine and the Elizabeth F. Brigham Professor of Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School. “More research is needed to understand if this biomarker may eventually have a role in screening for diabetes in clinical practice.”

Type 2 diabetes – the most common form of diabetes in the United States – affects approximately 17 million people. Type 2 diabetes is associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, prior history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity.