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Healthy fat genes

Project summary

Using human genetics to understand metabolically healthy obesity

Dr Yaghootkar will study genes to understand what protects some obese people from developing Type 2 diabetes. She would like to understand how certain genes influence the way we store fat and if they can protect people from developing Type 2. Dr Yaghootkar hopes that understanding why certain people are naturally protected from Type 2 may help to develop better treatments and prevention strategies in the future.

Background to research

Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, but not everyone who is obese will go on to develop the condition. Two people of the same age, sex and body mass index (BMI, calculated using your height and weight) can have very different risks of Type 2. With obesity on the rise worldwide, it’s important to understand the differences between those who do and don’t develop Type 2 diabetes. We know that some genes may lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes. These genes can influence how and where the body stores fat, and they might also determine how much fat a person can store before it becomes harmful. But we still don’t know exactly which genes could potentially protect against Type 2 and how they work.

Research aims

Dr Yaghootkar will be looking for genes that may protect obese people from developing Type 2 diabetes. First, she would like to find genes that are involved in fat storage, but reduce the amount of ‘bad’ fat stored and reduce blood pressure. To achieve this, Dr Yaghootkar will use the data from the UK Biobank, one of the largest health studies in the world that is co-funded by Diabetes UK. The UK Biobank collects biological samples (like blood and saliva) and other measurements (including weight, height, and blood pressure) from over 500,000 volunteers in the UK to follow their health. She will find out if the genes she identifies define where you store fat: under the skin or around internal organs (for example, the liver), which might be more harmful. Dr Yaghootkar will also compare fat tissue from people carrying the ‘protective’ genes and people who might be at risk of Type 2, to find out what the differences are.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

We’re committed to better understanding Type 2 diabetes and reducing the number of people at risk. This project will provide important insights into which genes may protect against Type 2 diabetes, and will inform further research into Type 2 treatment and prevention.

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