Virginia Tech researchers have identified a biomarker in pre-diabetic individuals that could help prevent them from developing Type II diabetes.

Publishing in Clinical Epigenetics, the researchers discovered that pre-diabetic people who were considered to be insulin resistant — unable to respond to the hormone insulin effectively — also had altered mitochondrial DNA.

Researchers made the connection by analyzing blood samples taken from 40 participants enrolled in the diaBEAT-it program, a long-term study run by multiple researchers in the Fralin Translational Obesity Research Center and funded by a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Participants did not have diabetes or cardiovascular disease, but were pre-diabetic and showed signs of insulin resistance.

Blood samples revealed participants had lower amounts of mitochondrial DNA with a higher amount of methylation — a process that can change the expression of genes and mitochondrial copy numbers in cells — than healthy people.

Mitochondrion is responsible for converting chemical energy from food into energy that cells can use.

“If the body is insulin resistant, or unable to respond properly to insulin, it could affect a person’s mitochondrial function and overall energy levels,” said Zhiyong Cheng, an assistant professor of human, nutrition, foods, and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate. “Mitochondrial alterations have previously been observed in obese individuals, but this is the first time we’ve made the molecular link between insulin resistance and mitochondrial DNA changes.”

Cheng and collaborator Fabio…

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