A new study has found people with elevated blood levels of a protein called prostasin face a significantly higher risk of developing diabetes or dying from cancer. It’s unclear at this point whether the protein plays a causal role in either disease, however, it could serve as a biomarker to identify patients most at risk of developing diabetes or severe cancer.
Prostasin is a protein known to play a role in regulating sodium balance and blood pressure. It’s primarily found in epithelial tissue, those tightly-packed cells lining most major organs in the body.
To evaluate the relationship between prostasin levels and disease the new research looked at health data from a long-term diet and cancer study that followed 4,000 subjects for well over 20 years.
The research found those subjects with the highest prostasin blood levels at the beginning of the study were 76% more likely to develop diabetes compared to those with the lowest prostasin levels. Those with the highest prostasin levels were also 43% more likely to die from cancer.
The relationship between cancer mortality and prostasin was most significant in those subjects with high blood sugar. First author on the study Xue Bao said it is unclear whether the protein is directly playing a role in the progression of certain cancers.
“Since prostasin has a role in regulating several diabetes-associated biological pathways that are also involved in the onset and promotion of some cancers, it may potentially mediate the process from high blood sugar to cancer, or at least may act as a marker for cancer susceptibility in participants with high blood sugar,” explained Xue Bao. “To look at this in more detail, it will be useful for future studies to trace the exact origins of prostasin in blood, and to determine whether the association between prostasin and diabetes is causal.”
The researchers suggest it is also possible increased prostasin levels could be a response by the body to suppress other mechanisms that can lead to diabetes and cancer. So, of course, it will take more work to unpack the association flagged in this observational study.
In the meantime, however, the researchers do indicate prostasin could be a valuable early warning sign of diabetes risk or cancer severity, especially in patients with high blood glucose levels. Speaking to The Guardian, senior author on the study Gunnar Engstrom said it’s possible a simple prostasin blood test in the future could help doctors identify patients at risk of certain diseases early.
“We now need to examine to what extent prostasin is causally related to these diseases or whether it is a valuable marker of increased disease risk,” Engström explained. “It might also be possible to identify individuals with increased risk of diabetes and cancer, and offer preventive measures.”
The new study was published in the journal Diabetologia.
Source: Springer Nature