New algorithm promises to predict diabetic kidney disease

(from left) Ronald Ma, Kevin Yip

Researchers from Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (La Jolla, California) and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong, China) have developed a computational approach to predict whether a person with type 2 diabetes will develop kidney disease. Their results are published in Nature Communications. The new algorithm depends on measurements of DNA methylation, which a press release notes “can be easily measured through blood tests”.

“This study provides a glimpse into the powerful future of predictive diagnostics,” says co-senior author Kevin Yip (Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute). “Our team has demonstrated that by combining clinical data with cutting-edge technology, it’s possible to develop computational models to help clinicians optimise the treatment of type 2 diabetes to prevent kidney disease.”

“There has been significant progress developing treatments for kidney disease in people with diabetes,” says co-senior author Ronald Ma (Chinese University of Hong Kong). “However, it can be difficult to assess an individual patient’s risk for developing kidney disease based on clinical factors alone, so determining who is at greatest risk of developing diabetic kidney disease is an important clinical need.”

“Our computational model can use methylation markers from a blood sample to predict both current kidney function and how the kidneys will function years in the future, which means it could be easily implemented alongside current methods for evaluating a patient’s risk for kidney disease,” says Yip.

The researchers developed their model using detailed data from more than 1,200 patients with type 2 diabetes in the Hong Kong Diabetes Register. They also tested their model on a separate group of 326 Native Americans with type 2 diabetes, which “helped ensure that their approach could predict kidney disease in different populations” according to the press release.

“This study highlights the unique strength of the Hong Kong Diabetes Register and its huge potential to fuel further discoveries to improve our understanding of diabetes and its complications,” says study co-author Juliana Chan (Chinese University of Hong Kong), who established the Hong Kong Diabetes Register more than two decades ago.

“The Hong Kong Diabetes Register is a scientific treasure,” adds first author Kelly Yichen Li (Sanford Burnham Prebys). “They follow up with patients for many years, which gives us a full picture of how human health can change over decades in people with diabetes.”

The researchers are currently working to further refine their model. They are also expanding the application of their approach to look at other questions about human health and disease, such as determining why some people with cancer don’t respond well to certain treatments.

“The science is still evolving, but we are working on incorporating additional information into our model to further empower precision medicine in diabetes,” says Ma.


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