COLUMBIA — Almost six million people in the U.S. have undiagnosed diabetes, and an MU researcher has created a tool that could lower that number.
Richelle Koopman, assistant professor of family and community medicine in the MU School of Medicine, developed TAG-IT, a test that analyzes six factors to determine how likely a person is to be diabetic or pre-diabetic.
The six factors are age, sex, body mass index, family history, resting heart rate and measured high blood pressure, all things that could be noted on an electronic health record.
“We wanted things that could be easily measured and that might be able to be pulled out of an electronic health record because we recognize that that is the future direction of medicine,” Koopman said.
Koopman also said that with this test, doctors could go through lists of their patients and choose those they think are at risk for pre-diabetes or diabetes and recommend they get tested.
This test will also be helpful in detection because people with early diabetes and pre-diabetes have nebulous symptoms, such as fatigue, hunger, thirst and more frequent urination, and these are often ignored, Koopman said.
“People don’t notice the symptoms, and so they don’t go to their doctor, and there is just no way for them to know that they’ve actually developed the disease,” she said. “And it develops insidiously over the course of maybe years, so the symptoms are vague and people just don’t notice it.”
Pre-diabetes is especially important to detect early because it can be stopped before it progresses into full-onset diabetes, said Arch Mainous, a co-author of the study Koopman published on TAG-IT.
“We don’t want to have them switch on over (from pre-diabetes to diabetes)," Mainous said. "I think identifying people who might be at risk and coming up with some way of doing something with them to keep them from transitioning is very useful.”
Koopman said that this tool would most benefit young people who are at risk for diabetes. According the American Diabetes Association, one in six overweight adolescents from 12-19 have pre-diabetes.
“In models of benefit of intervention, preventing disease in young people always gives you the most bang for your buck,” she said. “Anyone who found they had pre-diabetes could benefit, but I think it is mostly targeted at young people.”
David Mehr, professor of family and community medicine in the MU School of Medicine, said he thinks TAG-IT has promise but needs to be tested at a higher level before it can be used to help patients.
“It’s something that has potential, and like other new things that have potential, it needs to be tested out in a real-world setting,” Mehr said. “It has to be tested using real patients to see whether or not patients benefit from this.”
Koopman acknowledged she needs to test a larger group of patients.
“We just developed the tool, and we haven’t done the research to say how we can use it in a real-patient population,” she said. “We developed it from real people, but as far as applying it to patient populations, that’s our next step.”