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Smart measuring device predicts diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death

22 November 2018

​​​The reflection of light through the skin (autofluorescence), measured with a simple device on which the forearm is placed, can predict the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death. This is shown by research among nearly 73,000 participants in the biobank Lifelines. Researchers led by Bruce Wolffenbuttel, professor of Endocrinology at the UMCG, published their findings today in the scientific journal Diabetologia.

image of the device
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Earlier research showed that patie​nts with type 2 diabetes have a higher level of certain chemicals, so-called advanced glycation end-products (AGE’s). Because some AGE’s give autofluorescence in the skin, higher levels of autofluorescence of the skin can also be seen in these patients.

Those AGE’s can be measured with an AGE-reader, a measuring device the size of a brick, on which the forearm is placed. The light from the AGE-reader shines on the arm and the skin of the arm reflects the light in a different wavelength. By measuring the light in the changed wavelength, you can see whether the autofluorescence of the skin has increased. This simple measurement method does is non-invasive and only takes ten seconds.

The researchers have now examined whether autofluorescence can predict the development of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death in people who are not (yet) ill.

To this end they used Lifelines, a data- and biobank in which information about the health of 167,000 people is collected. Autofluorescence was also measured for most participants with an AGE-reader. For this study, the researchers looked at the data of 72,880 persons who had no cardiovascular disease or diabetes during the first round of research.

In the second round of research, on average four years later, 1.4% of them had developed diabetes, 1.7% developed cardiovascular disease and 1.3% (928 people) had died. When the researchers of these now sick or deceased persons looked at the autofluorescence measurements from 4 years earlier and compared them with the people who had not become ill, it appeared that the autofluorescence of the skin had a great predictive value.

"The higher the outcome of autofluorescence, the greater the chance of developing type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease, and the greater the chance of dying," says Wolffenbuttel. "The predictive value was independent of several traditional risk factors, such as obesity, metabolic syndrome and increased glucose levels. This means that also in people who seem healthy (without obesity and other risk factors), autofluorescence is an important predictor of future illness and death. "

"The AGE-reader can be used easily and can be operated by anyone, after which the (family) physician, together with the prospective patient, can try to diminish risk factors. For example, by stopping smoking, exercise, working on a healthy weight and treating high cholesterol and blood pressure, "says Wolffenbuttel.

The guiding principle of scientific research at UMCG is to add more healthy years to life. That is why we research the mechanisms of diseases (what underlies a disease?), the prevention of diseases and, in the event of illness, to new, innovative ways of determining and treating them.

The AGE reader was developed by researchers at the UMCG and is marketed by Diagnoptics.

Lifelines is a large-scale research program witch aims to better understanding on how people can grow old healthier. The health of 167,000 inhabitants of the Northern Netherlands, spread over 3 generations, is being monitored for 30 years. With the collected data and biomaterials, researchers in the Netherlands and abroad can conduct scientific research. Lifelines is the largest biobank in the Netherlands. Bruce Wolffenbuttel is one of the founders of Lifelines.