A study shows that levels of protein in the blood may indicate the risk of developing diabetes and dying from cancer

Doctors have identified a protein in the blood that they believe could serve as an early warning sign for patients at risk of developing diabetes and dying from cancer.

Researchers in Sweden and China analyzed two decades of health records of more than 4,500 middle-aged adults on the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study. They found that those with the highest levels of prostacin, a protein that circulates in the blood, were more likely to develop diabetes than those with the lowest levels.

Some of those involved in the study already had diabetes, so the scientists looked at people who did not have the disease and who were subsequently diagnosed. People in the upper quartile of prostacin levels were found to be 76% more likely to develop diabetes than those in the lower quartile.

Prostacin was a potential new “risk marker” for diabetes, but also death from cancer, especially in people with high blood sugar, said Dr. Xue Bao, first author of the study at the Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing University Medical School in China.

Prostazine plays several roles in the body, such as regulating blood pressure and blood volume, and it also inhibits the growth of tumors fueled by high blood sugar. While type 2 diabetes is known to increase the risk of some cancers, including tumors of the pancreas, liver, intestine, and endometrium, the biological mechanisms are far from clear.

After investigating the link between prostacin and diabetes, researchers looked at whether people with higher levels of the protein had a higher risk of developing cancer.

Writing in the journal Diabetologia, they describe how those in the top quartile of prostacin levels were 43% more likely to die from cancer than those in the bottom quartile.

According to the study, participants with high levels of both prostacin and blood sugar were more likely to die from cancer. For every doubling of prostacin concentration, the risk of cancer death was increased by 24% in those without hyperglycemia, and by 139% in those without hyperglycemia. “Special attention should be given to these individuals,” the authors wrote.

It is unclear whether an elevated prostacin level plays a role in the disease or is just a biomarker that increases as the condition progresses. The authors suggest that one possibility is that prostacin levels rise in an attempt to suppress high blood sugar levels, but are unable to stop or reverse the damage caused.

“The relationship between diabetes and cancer is poorly understood and this protein could provide a potential common link between the two conditions,” said Professor Gunnar Engstrom, senior author of the study at Lund University.

“We now need to examine to what extent prostacin is causally associated with these diseases or whether it represents a valuable marker of increased disease risk,” Engstrom added.

“It may also be possible to identify individuals at increased risk of developing diabetes and cancer, and to provide preventive measures.”

Since the results are from people in one city, they may not apply to a larger population. The researchers also noted that prostacin was measured from frozen blood taken at only one time point, and that the study was not able to distinguish between different types of diabetes.

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Jessica Brown, from Diabetes UK, said: “We know there is a link between diabetes and some types of cancer, and this study suggests that levels of a specific protein, called prostacin, are linked to both conditions.

“Gaining a better understanding of the changes that occur within the body that may put people at risk for diabetes and cancer will help scientists find ways to protect people from these dangerous conditions, but there is still much more to discover.

“We need more research to see if prostacin plays a direct role in the development of type 2 diabetes and poorer cancer outcomes in people with higher blood sugar levels.”

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