Largest diabetes gene search finds 12 new links

LONDON Sun Jun 27, 2010 1:50pm EDT

Related Topics

LONDON (Reuters) - An international team of scientists working on the largest study to date to look at DNA and type 2 diabetes say they have found 12 new gene links that offer important clues to how the chronic disease works.

The consortium of researchers from across Europe, the United States and Canada said their findings would not only improve understanding of what lies behind type 2 diabetes, but suggest new biological processes that can be explored as possible targets for new medicines.

"The signals we have identified provide important clues to the biological basis of type 2 diabetes. The challenge will be to turn these genetic findings into better ways of treating and preventing the condition," said Mark McCarthy of the center for human genetics at Oxford University, who led the study.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by the body's inability to adequately use insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, to control glucose sugar produced from food. Sugar levels rise and can damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and major arteries.

The disease, often linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, is reaching epidemic levels as rates of obesity rise. An estimated 180 million people worldwide now have diabetes.

The identification of 12 new genes brings the total number of genetic regions known to be linked with type 2 diabetes to 38. The international team, whose work was published in the journal Nature on Sunday, said the genes they found tend to be involved in the working of pancreatic cells that produce insulin and in the control of insulin's action in the body.

The researchers said each of the gene variants carried only a very small effect on diabetes risk, and even combined, their capacity to predict future risk of diabetes was modest.

But McCarthy said one particularly important theme of their findings was that several of the genes seem to be important in controlling the number of pancreatic beta-cells a person has.

Beta-cells are the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, and McCarthy said this result would help settle a long-standing puzzle about the role of beta-cell numbers in type 2 diabetes. It also "points to the importance of developing therapies that are able to preserve or restore depleted numbers of beta-cells," he said.

The team used gene sequencing technology to compare the DNA of over 8,000 people with type 2 diabetes with almost 40,000 people without the condition at almost 2.5 million places across the genome. They then checked the genetic variations they found in another group of more than 34,000 people with diabetes and around 60,000 more without it.

Jim Wilson of the University of Edinburgh, who also worked on the study, said another interesting finding was that the diabetes susceptibility genes also contain variants that increase the risk of other unrelated diseases, including skin and prostate cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol.

"This implies that different regulation of these genes can lead to many different diseases," he said.

(Editing by Ralph Boulton)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (1)
Chip_H wrote:
What a fraud, this assumes genetic variation in human population has magically caused quadrupling of diabetes since 1970, right about the same time as high fructose corn syrup a synthetic chemical began to substitute for natural sugar, aided and abetted by Federal corn subsidies and sugar tariffs worth billions of dollars, now they have the market pushed over to HFCS, and labeled CONTENTS: sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup, so they can run these medical studies and make billions of ObamaCare bucks studying the latent effects of HFCS in food, without ever revealing that link, indeed, recognizing the grant potential in pinning it on ‘genetics’, they might as well just blame it on moon rocks, and start a new boutique line of celebrate endorsed cell therapeutics you can wash down with your HFCS cola drink. We are truly doomed. Corporate-State has truly taken over, and we are all just resource extraction units, living in the most dead busted flat broke nation in human history.

Jun 27, 2010 6:42pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.