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More genes linked to diabetes found

5 July 2010
Appeared in BioNews 565

Scientists have identified 12 new gene variants associated with type 2 diabetes, according to recent work published in Nature Genetics.

The researchers, led by Professor Mark McCarthy of University of Oxford, investigated genetic data from eight previous genome-wide association studies (GWAS) incorporating over 8,000 individuals with type 2 diabetes and almost 40,000 healthy controls.

The pooled data was used to determine the prevalence of particular genetic variations in people with type 2 diabetes. They subsequently confirmed their findings in a separate sample of 34,000 people with diabetes and almost 60,000 controls, particularly focusing on genetic variations in regions of the DNA not formerly associated with type 2 diabetes.

The gene variants found were associated with well-known biological processes of diabetes, including beta-cell function (these are the pancreatic cells that produce insulin) and insulin performance, as well as cell-cycle regulation.

'This is strong research and adds to our knowledge of the genes that increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes', said Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Diabetes UK. 'As we continue to add more pieces to the jigsaw, our greater understanding of the genetics behind Type 2 diabetes could lead to new avenues of research into prevention and improving treatments'.

Dr Jim Wilson, of Edinburgh University, said: 'One very interesting finding is that the diabetes susceptibility genes also contain variants that increase the risk of unrelated diseases, including skin and prostate cancer, coronary heart disease and high cholesterol. This implies that different regulation of these genes can lead to many different diseases'.

The 12 new gene variants bring the total number linked with type 2 diabetes to 38.

Dr. Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, emphasised that these genes only relate to a predisposition for developing diabetes, not actually having or getting diabetes. 'Environmental factors are the other 50 percent of the story', he said.

Type 2 diabetes is largely the result of excess body weight and physical inactivity according to The World Health organisation (WHO), and results from the body's ineffective use of insulin. People with diabetes typically make insufficient insulin, or build up a resistance to insulin, causing abnormally high levels of glucose in the blood.

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