Simple test could help identify type 2 diabetes risk earlier

A breakthrough in the accuracy of DNA analysis could lead to a simple test for type 2 diabetes to predict your likelihood of developing the condition within a 10-year time frame.

In a study published in the journal Nature Aging, a research team from the University of Edinburgh found that by analysing specific changes in a patient’s DNA, known as ‘methylation’, they could identify markers for diabetes years before any symptoms actually presented themselves.

Methylation is a natural chemical process that occurs in the body when a small molecule known as a ‘methyl group’ attaches itself to a piece of DNA.

Under current methods for predicting diabetes, medical professionals gather information from a patient such as their age, sex, BMI and any family history of the disease.

The University of Edinburgh test combines this information with the patient’s methylation data to provide a much more accurate prediction.

The team used their results to estimate the predictive performance on a hypothetical screening scenario of 10,000 people, where one in three individuals developed type 2 diabetes over a 10-year period.

The DNA methylation model correctly classed an extra 449 individuals compared with just using traditional risk factors alone.

Data for the experiment came from 14,613 volunteers in the Generation Scotland study – a large study designed to help scientists investigate the causes of disease, understand the country’s healthcare priorities, and inform future medical treatments and health policies.

The team also repeated the analyses in 1451 individuals from a study based in Germany to ensure their findings could be replicated in people from different backgrounds.

Professor Riccardo Marioni, lead author of the study, says he hopes the analysis method might also be used to predict other conditions.

“Similar approaches could be taken for other common diseases to generate broad health predictors from a single blood or saliva sample,” he says.

Yipeng Cheng, PhD student and co-author of the study, was encouraged by the fact that the study produced the same results across two separate populations.

“It is promising that our findings were observed in the Scottish and German studies, with both showing an improvement in prediction above and beyond commonly used risk factors,” he says.

“Delaying onset is important as diabetes is a risk factor for other common diseases, including dementias.”

An estimated 1.2 million Australians (just under 5 per cent of the population) are living with type 2 diabetes, and the condition is responsible for approximately 11 per cent of deaths in Australia each year.

Are you at risk of diabetes? Could this test help you? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Seven unhelpful myths about diabetes to stop believing

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.


  1. I do wish people would stop relying on the so-called body mass index as it was said about 2 years ago that it shouldn’t be used any more as it was created by a mathematician and didn’t take into account bone or muscle structure .

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