Savefor later Page saved! You can go back to this later in your Diabetes and Me Close

Genes can protect some people from type 2 diabetes

A new study from our researchers has discovered that genes which control where our body fat is stored play a direct role in causing type 2 diabetes.

Living with obesity or overweight increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but not everyone who has obesity will go on to develop the condition. And not everyone with type 2 diabetes also lives with obesity. 

With our funding, scientists at the Universities of Brunel and Exeter, led by Dr Hanieh Yaghootkar, have shed light on why the risk of developing type 2 can vary so much between people with similar bodyweights.

The biology behind type 2

Scientists have previously found lots of different genes that are linked to type 2 diabetes. Some of these genes influence where the body stores fat. ‘Favourable’ genes instruct the body to store fat under the skin, preventing it from building up around important organs, like the liver and pancreas. Whilst ‘unfavourable’ genes mean some people are hardwired to store fat in more harmful places, around their organs.

In their new study, Dr Yaghootkar and the team studied information from around 500,000 people using data from the FinnGen project and the UK Biobank. They looked at favourable and unfavourable fat storage genes in people living with obesity and worked out how much they contributed to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, along with other health conditions where bodyweight can be a risk factor.

They tested 37 different health conditions and found for 12 of these – including type 2 diabetes –genes that determine where fat is stored play a direct role in either raising or lowering risk of the conditions. The remaining conditions weren’t found to be directly caused by fat storage genes.

Our researcher, Dr Yaghootkar, explained: “Some people have genes that mean they store higher levels of fat everywhere, including under the skin, liver and pancreas. That’s associated with a higher risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes. Others have genes that mean they have higher fat under the skin but lower liver fat, and a lower risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes.”

Unlocking better treatments

These findings tell us more about the underlying biology behind type 2 diabetes and help explain why some people living with obesity are naturally protected from the condition. But it’s important to remember that your genes are not your destiny and, regardless of whether you have favourable or unfavourable genes, living with obesity can still increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and other health conditions.

The causes of type 2 diabetes are a complex mix of genetic, biological and environmental factors, with big variations between people which are not yet fully understood. Understanding more about how and why genetics influence the risk of developing type 2 diabetes could help scientists to develop new treatments and prevention strategies, and identify who is most likely to benefit from them. 

Dr Faye Riley, our Senior Research Communications Officer, said:

Living with obesity or overweight is a major risk factor in developing type 2 diabetes, but not everyone with obesity has the same risk of developing the condition. This important research reveals that having genes that instruct the body to store fat around organs such as the liver increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, whereas having genes that lead to fat being stored directly under the skin reduces that risk.

“As we move towards an era of personalised medicine, understanding why some people living with obesity may have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes than others could help improve the way we predict, prevent and treat the condition.

“Type 2 diabetes is complex and knowing your overall risk is the first step in accessing support, such as prevention programmes. To find out your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and the support available to help to reduce it, visit our know your risk tool.”


Back to Top
Brand Icons/Telephonecheck - FontAwesomeicons/tickicons/uk