Diabetes Genetic Factors Found

Diabetes Genetic Factors Found

Ten genetic variants associated with Type-2 diabetes, a disease that affects more than 170 million people worldwide, have been identified or confirmed by a U.S.-Finnish team led by scientists at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

The discoveries could lead to the development of new drugs for diabetes, permit more effective targeting of drug and behavioral therapies, and help scientists and physicians better predict who will develop diabetes, said Michael Boehnke, the Richard G. Cornell Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics at SPH.

Boehnke is the lead scientist on the Finland-United States Investigation of Non-Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus Genetics (FUSION) study group, which collaborated with two other groups of scientists to conduct the most comprehensive study to date of genetic risk factors for Type-2 diabetes.

“Until recently we knew very little about the genetic architecture of Type-2 diabetes,” said Boehnke, adding that diabetes has been called “the geneticist’s nightmare” because there are so many behavioral and environmental factors—in addition to genes—that are risk factors for the disease. “This is certainly not the complete genetic architecture for diabetes, but we have come a long way in better understanding the genetic basis for this disease.”

The groups identified at least four new genetic factors associated with increased risk of diabetes and confirmed the existence of another six. The findings of the three groups, published simultaneously in April in the online edition of the journal Science, boost to at least ten the number of genes confidently associated with increased susceptibility to Type-2 diabetes. “One of the nicest aspects of this study has been the collaboration between the three groups,” said Laura Scott, assistant research scientist in SPH and first author of the paper. “Most of these variants would have taken substantially longer to identify if each group had proceeded independently.”

Type-2 diabetes is characterized by high levels of blood sugar, caused by the body’s inability to utilize insulin to move blood sugar into the cells for energy. The disease affects nearly 21 million in the U.S., and the incidence of the disease has skyrocketed in the last 30 years. Diabetes is a major cause of heart disease and stroke, as well as the most common cause of blindness, kidney failure, and amputations in U.S. adults.

News of the UM study quickly appeared in media outlets around the world, including the New York Times, CBS News, the Los Angeles Daily News, the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, and Medical News Today–UK. In his commencement speech at UM, former President Bill Clinton cited the study as proof that “this is one of the most exciting times to be alive in all of human history.”

By Laura Bailey.

Send correspondence about this or any Findings article to the editor at sph.findings@umich.edu. You will be contacted if your letter is considered for publication.

In his commencement speech at UM, former President Bill Clinton cited the study as proof that “this is one of the most exciting times to be alive in all of human history.”