A team of researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, has found that an elevated level of the protein galectin-1 is associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes about 18 years later, according to Science Daily.

The researchers, however, said that galectin-1 seems to have a protective effect on the kidneys among type 2 diabetes patients who are at high risk of developing diabetic nephropathy (kidney damage).

The study, published in the journal Diabetologia, pointed out both negative and positive associations between the protein galectin-1 and type 2 diabetes.

Galectin-1 may be associated with an increased risk of diabetes, but it appears to be more beneficial in diabetic patients with an increased risk of kidney damage. That’s because patients with high galectin-1 levels suffer less kidney damage.

Lead author Emanuel Fryk said, “This is probably not as strange as it might sound. My own personal theory is that the actions of galectin-1 found in the kidney are linked to inflammatory processes, whereas the actions of galectin-1 in the adipose tissue appear to be largely linked to metabolic processes.”

“Thus, we can expect to see different mechanisms at work and different outcomes for the same protein,” he added.

The authors said do not propose that galectin-1 is a new tool in primary care to predict diabetes, but consider it a step forward in better understanding the disease.

“This is an important piece of the puzzle in the research field on why obesity is such a big risk factor for the disease,” they said. “It is a new clue for scientists trying to find out exactly what happens in the body of individuals with obesity who later develop type 2 diabetes.”

Type 2 diabetes is one of the complex diseases, and if poorly treated, it could increase the risk of complications, including the most serious complications – chronic kidney disease (CKD).

More than half of those who have type 2 diabetes develop CKD, which can permanently damage the organ and lead to premature death.

Based on analysis from the study, the team has now shown that elevated levels of galectin-1 may offer some protection against CKD for patients with diabetes.

The authors wrote, “In two large population-based cohorts in southern Sweden, we demonstrate that galectin-1 is linked to renal function and has potentially prophylactic effects against renal failure among some patients with type 2 diabetes.”

“This puts a new candidate on the table that should be studied as a potential target when developing future pharmaceuticals,” they added.