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NIDDK Awards ASU's Biodesign Institute $3.1M to Validate Diabetes Protein Markers

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This story originally ran on May. 6.

By Adam Bonislawski

A team of researchers at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute has won a $3.1 million award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to identify and validate protein biomarkers associated with the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The team, led by Randall Nelson, plans to use the funding to validate 11 proteins it has already identified as being linked to diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as to screen for new potential markers.

Using a combination of immunoaffinity capture and a range of mass spectrometry methods, including MALDI-TOF, MALDI-TOF/TOF, ESI-qTOF, and ESI triple quad, Nelson's team has to date identified 11 proteins linked to diabetes and cardiovascular disease and observed among those proteins 15 post-translational modifications — primarily glycation markers and oxidative stress markers — associated with diabetes and heart disease. The ASU Biodesign researchers worked in collaboration with researchers at the University of Arizona and the Veteran's Administration hospital in Phoenix on these studies.

The markers have progressed through trials involving cross-sectional cohorts (healthy, type 2 diabetes, and coronary vascular disease) of roughly 400 people to further validate their links to diabetes and heart disease. Now, using funding from the NIDDK award, the researchers plan to run the markers through larger trials involving cohorts of close to 1,000 people, Nelson told ProteoMonitor this week.

"You have two components going on — the application of the known markers as well as scouting for additional markers," Nelson said.

"We've got another four [proteins] in the pipeline. As they come along we'll continue to screen more and more proteins to see if there's anything that stands out. You might anticipate, I'd say, between five and ten more added to this panel in the next couple of years."

Although his team has yet to run trials with longitudinal cohorts under medication, Nelson said that the identified markers could potentially be useful for tracking patient response to drug treatments. He said his team is presently working with a large undisclosed pharmaceutical company to integrate the markers and assays into drug development.

In the long term — three to five years, according to Nelson — the goal is to use the data accumulated from the trials to develop profiles that will allow researchers to predict risk for diabetes and heart disease in the population at large.

"The thing we're really interested in under this program is looking how an individual will change in a biomarker pattern from healthy to diabetes to cardiovascular risk," he said. "We're trying to paint out a multi-marker space that bridges between healthy to diabetes to cardiovascular disease."

At present, roughly 10 percent of healthcare spending in the US goes towards diabetes treatment, and, according to a study published last year by the American Diabetes Association, the number of Americans with diabetes is expected to double by 2034.

"Diabetes is really a group of diseases with the common outcome of hyperglycemia," Salvatore Sechi, director of the NIDDK's Proteomic Program, said in a statement. "We hope that the identification of novel markers will help determine disease subsets and lead to treatments that are tailored, or personalized for individual patients."

Looking further into the future, Nelson has also submitted a proposal to the NIH to create a larger group of researchers to follow up on work done with the NIDDK award.

"We have some language in front of NIH to set up a bigger consortium that brings in Pfizer and some of the diagnostic companies to try and translate these markers into bigger use," he said.

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