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If you knew you were genetically predisposed to develop type 2 diabetes, would you change your diet? Ramp up your workout regimen? Start monitoring your blood sugar? Recent research suggests that you may one day get a chance to make some informed choices — years before a diabetes diagnosis would occur.

German scientists have identified epigenetic changes in the pancreas of lab mice that predict the disease’s development. They then found a similar pattern in the blood cells of humans participating in a major European diet study.

“Our aim was to identify early changes in DNA methylation and the expression pattern in the islets of Langerhans in a diabetes-prone mouse and then to test which of these can also be detected in the blood of humans before diabetes is diagnosed,” says Annette Schürmann, PhD, a spokesperson at the German Center for Diabetes Research.

They were able to detect changes in DNA methylation among type-2-diabetes patients participating in the EPIC–Potsdam study that matched those in the mice, a discovery Schürmann believes may change the way physicians — and their patients — approach the disease.

“In humans, 105 such differences can be detected in blood cells a few years prior to the diabetes diagnosis,” she notes. “This may open up the possibility of using some of these changes as diagnostic markers for type 2 diabetes in the future.”

This article originally appeared as “Destined for Diabetes?” in the March 2021 issue of Experience Life.

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