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New clues to the genetics of Type 2 diabetes

Six new genes which play a role in the development of Type 2 diabetes have been identified by an international collaboration of scientists from Europe and the US, partly funded by Diabetes UK.

Ninety researchers analysed genetic data gathered from 70,000 people in search of differences in genetic codes that make some people more susceptible than others to Type 2 diabetes.

New genes

Previous work from these groups had identified 10 genes contributing to Type 2 diabetes risk, to which the new findings, published online today in the journal Nature Genetics, add a further six new genes.

“It’s remarkable that we still know so little about such a major condition as Type 2 diabetes," said Professor Simon Howell, Chair of Diabetes UK.

"By revealing new pathways by which the body normally keeps blood glucose levels under control, this research offers new opportunities for more effective ways of treating and preventing this condition.”

Connections with other conditions

In addition, the researchers have identified a surprising association between Type 2 diabetes and the gene known as JAZF1, which has recently been shown to play a role in a very different condition: prostate cancer.

"Genetic studies of this kind are revealing new and unsuspected connections between diseases,” says Dr Eleftheria Zeggini from the University of Oxford.

“This is now the second example of a gene which affects both Type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer. We don’t yet know what the connections are, but this has important implications for the future design of drugs for these conditions."

Increase in risk

Each of the new genes only increases the risk of diabetes by a small amount, though when combined, their effects can be more impressive. However, the scientists caution against any immediate rush to use this information to give individual predictions of disease risk.

Professor David Altshuler of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT in Cambridge, USA, who led one of the three groups behind the research, added: “Once we more fully understand the large numbers of genes now implicated in diabetes risk, it might become possible to identify people at particularly high risk before the condition takes root.

"However, until we have evidence that using such information results in better health outcomes, widespread genetic testing would be premature.”

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