Ten new gene regions linked to diabetes

22 August 2012

A large-scale study has unearthed ten new gene regions (loci) linked to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes (T2D) occurs when the level of blood glucose is too high, either because the body does not produce enough insulin or because cells stop reacting to the insulin produced. It is thought to affect nearly 3 million people in the UK.

The work carried out by members of the international DIAbetes Genetics Replication And Meta-analysis (DIAGRAM) Consortium and published in Nature Genetics pooled the results of previous studies to compare nearly 35,000 cases and 115,000 diabetes-free controls. It flagged up ten previously unreported susceptibility loci, two of which had different effects in men and women. Each variant conferred an extra risk of developing T2D of 7-13%. The new findings bring the total number of variants known to be associated with the disease to over 60.

The ten new loci were all near to genes that could plausibly contribute to the risk of T2D. The study authors suggest possible mechanisms by which they might exert their effects, but further research will be required to establish the veracity of these. They conclude that their findings support the current understanding of T2D as a complex disease; that is, one influenced by a large number of common variants in combination with environmental factors.

The hope with identifying new variants linked to a disorder is that they will lead to the development of new therapies, however the large number of variants influencing T2D and their individually small effects are unlikely to lead to revolutionise treatment of the disease in the short to medium term.