Researchers have identified a gene that may promote insulin resistance, one of the key factors in the development of Type 2 diabetes.
Imperial College London scientists say the IRS1 gene controls how the body responds to insulin, and that a variation in the gene's DNA promotes insulin resistance.
They say the discovery could lead to new drug treatments that target the genetic problem and make the body use its insulin more effectively.
Another step in understanding
Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said: "Any research that advances our knowledge of the causes and possible new treatments for Type 2 diabetes should be viewed as a good thing.
“The researchers have indicated that the value of this research is that it may lead to the production of a drug that improves the way insulin works in muscle tissue but they haven't said how they might go about doing this - so we are some way off seeing any direct patient benefit from this research.
"It is worth remembering that Type 2 diabetes is caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors, such as being overweight, and that there are many genes that have already been identified as being associated with the development of the condition."
Insulin is a hormone that allows the body to use glucose as fuel for energy. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance). In most cases this is linked with being overweight.
In the DNA
The new genetic link, the first known to involve insulin resistance, was found after scientists screened the DNA of more than 14,000 people.
They identified thousands of variations in the genetic code that were associated with diabetes, finally whittling them down to one with the greatest effect. This appeared to influence a gene called insulin receptor substrate 1, or IRS1, which scientists have known about for some time.
The mutation affected the amount of protein produced by the IRS1 gene, suggesting a direct link.
The research was published yesterday in the journal Nature Genetics.