How to Detect Diabetes Early Enough To Reverse It

Diabetes is a severe and growing metabolic disorder. It already affects hundreds of thousands of people in Switzerland. A sedentary lifestyle and an excessively rich diet damage the beta cells of the pancreas, promoting the onset of this disease. If detected early enough, its progression could be reversed, but diagnostic tools that allow for early detection are lacking. A team from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) in collaboration with several other scientists, including teams from the HUG, has discovered that a low level of the sugar 1,5-anhydroglucitol in the blood is a sign of a loss in functional beta cells. This molecule, easily identified by a blood test, could be used to identify the development of diabetes in people at risk, before the situation becomes irreversible. These results can be found in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
In Switzerland, almost 500,000 people suffer from diabetes. This serious metabolic disorder is constantly increasing due to the combined effect of a lack of physical activity and an unbalanced diet. If detected early enough at the pre-diabetes stage, progression to an established diabetes can be counteracted by adopting an appropriate lifestyle. Unfortunately, one third of patients already have cardiovascular, renal or neuronal complications at the time of diagnosis, which impacts their life expectancy.

When diabetes starts to develop but no symptoms are yet detectable, part of the beta cells of the pancreas (in green) disappear (right image) compared to a healthy individual (left image). This previously undetectable decrease could be identified by measuring the level of 1,5-anhydroglucitol in the blood

‘‘Identifying the transition from pre-diabetes to diabetes is complex, because the status of the affected cells, which are scattered in very small quantities in the core of an organ located under the liver, the pancreas, is impossible to assess quantitatively by non-invasive investigations. We therefore opted for an alternative strategy: to find a molecule whose levels in the blood would be associated with the functional mass of these beta cells in order to indirectly detect their alteration at the pre-diabetes stage, before the appearance of any symptoms,’’ explains Pierre Maechler, a Professor in the Department of Cell Physiology and Metabolism and in the Diabetes Centre of the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine, who led this work.

Several years ago, scientists embarked on the identification of such a molecule able to detect pre-diabetes. The first step was to analyse thousands of molecules in healthy, pre-diabetic and diabetic mouse models. By combining powerful molecular biology techniques with a machine learning system (artificial intelligence), the research team was able to identify, from among thousands of molecules, the one that best reflects a loss of beta cells at the pre-diabetic stage: namely 1,5-anhydroglucitol, a small sugar, whose decrease in blood would indicate a deficit in beta cells.


New Molecule Kills The Flu Virus

Influenza is one of the most widespread viral diseases and constitutes a major public health problem. For some, it means spending a week in bed; for others, it could lead to hospitalization or, in the most severe cases, death. Scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)’s Supramolecular Nano-Materials and Interfaces Laboratory (SuNMIL) within the School of Engineering, working in association with the team headed by Caroline Tapparel, a professor at the University of Geneva’s Department of Microbiology and Molecular Medicine, have synthesized a compound that can kill the virus that causes influenza. Their discovery paves the way to effective drug therapies against the seasonal disease.

With the flu virus, the risk of a pandemic is high,” says Francesco Stellacci, the EPFL professor who heads SuNMIL. “Scientists have to update the vaccine every year because the strain mutates, and sometimes the vaccine turns out to be less effective. So it would be good to also have antivirals that could limit the effects of large-scale infection.

“Antiviral drugs already exist, and Tamiflu is the most well-known. But it has one major drawback – it has to be taken within 36 hours of infection or it loses its efficacy completely. And with influenza, symptoms generally start appearing 24 hours after infection. “By the time patients seek medical treatment, it’s often too late for Tamiflu,” explained Stellacci. “In addition, for antivirals to really work, they have to be virucidal – that is, they have to irreversibly inhibit viral infectivity. But today that’s not the case.

The research has been published in Advanced Science.