Impact of weight loss on cancer-related proteins in serum: results from a cluster randomised-controlled trial of individuals with type 2 diabetes

Caroline J Bull, Emma Hazelwood, Danny N Legge, Laura J Corbin, Tom G Richardson, Matthew Lee, James Yarmolinsky, Karl Smith-Byrne, David A Hughes, Mattias Johansson, Ulrike Peters, Sonja I Berndt, Hermann Brenner, Andrea Burnett-Hartman, Iona Cheng, Sun-Seog Kweon, Loic Le Marchand, Li Li, Polly A Newcomb, Rachel PearlmanAlex McConnachie, Paul Welsh, Roy Taylor, Mike E. J. Lean, Naveed Sattar, Neil Murphy, Marc Gunter, Nicholas John Timpson, Emma E Vincent*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Background: Type 2 diabetes is associated with higher risk of several cancer types. However, the biological intermediates driving this relationship are not fully understood. As novel interventions for treating and managing type 2 diabetes become increasingly available, whether they also disrupt the pathways leading to increased cancer risk is currently unknown. We investigated the effect of a type 2 diabetes intervention, in the form of intentional weight loss, on circulating proteins associated with cancer risk to gain insight into potential mechanisms linking type 2 diabetes and adiposity with cancer development.
Methods: Fasting serum samples from participants with diabetes enrolled in the Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial (DiRECT) receiving the Counterweight-Plus weight-loss programme (intervention, N = 117, mean weight-loss 10kg, 46% diabetes remission) or best-practice care by guidelines (control, N = 143, mean weight-loss 1kg, 4% diabetes remission) were subject to proteomic analysis using the Olink Oncology-II platform (48% of participants were female; 52% male). To identify proteins which may be altered by the weight-loss intervention, the difference in protein levels between groups at baseline and 1 year was examined using linear regression. Mendelian randomization (MR) was performed to extend these results to evaluate cancer risk and elucidate possible biological mechanisms linking type 2 diabetes and cancer development. MR analyses were conducted using independent datasets, including large cancer meta-analyses, UK Biobank, and FinnGen, to estimate potential causal relationships between proteins modified during intentional weight loss and the risk of colorectal, breast, endometrial, gallbladder, liver, and pancreatic cancers.
Findings: Nine proteins were modified by the intervention: glycoprotein Nmb; furin; Wnt inhibitory factor 1; toll-like receptor 3; pancreatic prohormone; erb-b2 receptor tyrosine kinase 2; hepatocyte growth factor; endothelial cell specific molecule 1 and Ret proto-oncogene (Holm corrected P-value < 0·05). Mendelian randomization analyses indicated a causal relationship between predicted circulating furin and glycoprotein Nmb on breast cancer risk (odds ratio (OR) = 0.81, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.67 to 0.99, P-value = 0.03; and OR = 0.88, 95% CI = 0.78 to 0.99, P-value = 0.04 respectively), though these results were not supported in sensitivity analyses examining violations of MR assumptions.
Interpretation: Intentional weight loss among individuals with recently diagnosed diabetes may modify levels of cancer-related proteins in serum. Further evaluation of the proteins identified in this analysis could reveal molecular pathways that mediate the effect of adiposity and type 2 diabetes on cancer risk.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104977
Number of pages13
Early online date29 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024

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