College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Gene study offers diabetes hope

Researchers at the University have helped to identify 12 new genes associated with late-onset diabetes.

Working as part of an international consortium, the scientists conducted the largest study yet of the connections between differences in people’s DNA and their risk of diabetes.

The team, including Dr Jim Wilson of the University’s Centre for Population Health Sciences, reports their findings in the journal Nature Genetics.

"The signals we have identified provide important clues to the biological basis of type 2 diabetes," says project leader Professor McCarthy of Oxford University. "The challenge will be to turn these genetic findings into better ways of treating and preventing the condition."

The identification of 12 new genes brings the total number of genetic regions known to be associated with type 2 diabetes to 38.

The genes tend to be involved in the working of pancreatic cells that produce the hormone insulin, the control of insulin’s action in the body, and in cell-cycle regulation.

Global study

The findings not only improve understanding of the processes underpinning type 2 diabetes, but give new biological pathways that can be explored as targets for new therapies.

The researchers - from across the UK, Europe, USA and Canada - compared the genes of over 8,000 people with type 2 diabetes with almost 40,000 people without the condition.

They then checked their results in another group including over 34,000 people with diabetes and almost 60,000 controls.

The researchers are now planning to explore further sources of DNA variation that have been missed in previous efforts, in an effort to pin down the remaining genetic basis for type 2 diabetes.

One very interesting finding is that the diabetes susceptibility genes also contain variants that increase the risk of unrelated diseases, including skin and prostate cancer, coronary heart disease and high cholesterol. This implies that different regulation of these genes can lead to many different diseases.

Dr Jim WilsonRoyal Society University Research Fellow at the University

Type 2 diabetes represents one of the most significant global challenges to health.

The rapidly rising prevalence of this condition across the world is thought to reflect the impact of widespread changes in lifestyle and diet on genetically susceptible individuals. Currently-available therapies can mitigate the effects of diabetes, but improved approaches for prevention and treatment are urgently required.

"Gradually we are piecing together clues about why some people get diabetes and others don't, with the potential for developing better treatments and preventing onset of diabetes in the future," says Professor McCarthy.