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New genetic test for a better diagnosis of diabetes

29 March 2016

A new way to distinguish between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes




Dr Richard Oram (left) received the Nick Hales Young Investigator Award at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference in 2014


Researchers from the University of Exeter have developed a new genetic test to help diagnose diabetes. This study by Dr Richard Oram from the University of Exeter,published in Diabetes Care, shows how a genetic test can help doctors to differentiate between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in young adults. 

Uncertainty in diagnosis

It can often be difficult for doctors to distinguish between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, particularly in people aged 20 to 40. Current clinical methods for diagnosis and available tests are not always helpful when trying to reach the right diagnosis. 


A correct diagnosis is really important, as Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are treated in different ways. Type 2 can be controlled with tablets, or through diet and weight loss, while Type 1 diabetes requires insulin therapy. 

Dr Oram is a prior Diabetes UK research fellow who is currently carrying out work funded by Diabetes UK. He is part of a group of researchers at the University of Exeter, one of the world’s leading research centres focusing on the genetic risk of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

New genetic risk test for Type 1 

Dr Oram and colleagues have developed a test which looks for 30 genetic changes in a person’s DNA. Each of the 30 genetic changes carries a small risk of Type 1 diabetes, and the test combines all these risks into a single score, which represents a summary of a person’s genetic risk for Type 1 diabetes. If a person score is high, they are more likely to have Type 1 diabetes. If the score is low, they are more likely to have Type 2 diabetes. 

You can watch a video about this exciting research on theReuters website

Dr Oram says “There is often no going back once insulin treatment starts. This may save people with Type 2 diabetes from being treated with insulin unnecessarily, but also stop the rare but serious occurrence of people with Type 1 being initially treated with tablets inappropriately and running of the risk of severe illness.”

What's next?

The Exeter team isnow working to develop a test that any clinical laboratory could run cheaply and quickly. They believe that this will provide important additional information for doctors when making a diagnosis.

Dr Oram comments “This will improve the number of people who gets the right treatment when they are first diagnosed, especially people who sits in the overlap between Type 1 and Type 2 diagnosis”

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