Elevated levels of fetuin-A, a protein produced by the liver that inhibits the action of insulin, may be a way to identify older people who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, say researchers at the University of California at San Diego.
A research team led by Joachim H. Ix, MD, MAS, assistant professor in the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension and the Division of Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego and at the San Diego Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, found that higher serum levels of fetuin-A were definitely associated with type 2 diabetes in humans, independent of other risk factors.
Those other factors included level of physical activity, the presence of inflammatory biomarkers, insulin resistance, sex, race and weight.
Previous studies with laboratory animals had indicated a relationship between elevated levels of the protein and increased risk of type 2, but this was the first comprehensive study of human subjects.
"Higher fetuin-A was associated with a 1.7-fold increased risk of diabetes, when adjusted for other factors," said Ix.
Ix’s study included 406 elderly persons, ages 70 to 79, who did not have diabetes at the start of the study and whose fetuin-A levels were at baseline. After six years of study, 135 study participants had developed type 2. Researchers found that those with the highest fetuin-A levels acquired type 2 at twice the rate of those with the lowest levels (13.3 cases versus 6.5 cases per 1,000 man-years).
One result of the study, said Ix, is that fetuin-A may become a therapeutic target. Even though scientists are not certain how high levels of fetuin-A may assist in the acquisition of type 2, doctors could attempt to lessen a patient’s risk of developing the disease by keeping fetuin-A levels low.
Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, July 2008