Potential Marker of Beta Cell Damage Discovered

Preventing beta cell loss and maintaining proper beta cell health and function has the potential to prevent progress or delay the onset of T1D. However, clinical development of agents to preserve beta cell health is currently limited by the lack of tools to directly detect beta cell stress, injury, or health. In an effort to identify markers of beta cell damage, Dr. Martens and his team at the Free University in Brussels used sophisticated biochemical methods to identify proteins specifically enriched in stressed and damaged human beta cells. Through this analysis they identified a specific protein, called DCX, which is enriched in human beta cells and is released from the cells in response to injury and damage. The levels of DCX released by the cells in lab tests were directly related to the extent of beta cell damage suggesting that DCX could possibly be exploited as a marker of beta cell damage in individuals with T1D autoantibodies or in those diagnosed with T1D.

Ramifications for Individuals with T1D:
This early stage research identified a beta cell specific protein as a potential marker of beta cell damage. Further research will be required to determine if this protein can be detected in the blood of individuals with T1D and if its release into a person’s circulation correlates with beta cell damage. If successful, this marker could be used to identify individuals likely to benefit from therapies aimed at preventing beta cell damage and to determine if such therapies are having the desired effect on beta cells in clinical trials.

JDRF Involvement:

Investigators and Institutions:
This research was led by Dr. Martens at the Free University in Brussels.

Jiang, L, Brackeva, B, Stangel, G, Verhaeghen, K, Costa, O, Couillard-Despres, S, Rotheneichner, P, Aigner, L, Van Schravendijk, C, Pipeleers, D, Ling, Z, Gorus, F and Martens, GA (2013) LC-MS/MS identification of doublecortin as abundant beta cell-selective protein discharged by damaged beta cells in vitro. J Proteomics. Mar 27;80:268-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jprot.2012.12.031. Epub 2013 Jan 19.