Is Diabetes in Your DNA?

When it comes to the causes of diabetes, many people point the finger to obesity and sugar-heavy diets. And while both obesity and sugar are often to blame for many diabetes cases, your DNA might have a significant impact on your personal diabetes risk.

A Global Project

This notion comes from a 2019 study, published in the journal Nature. The report featured contributors from Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School. For this research, the authors reviewed data from approximately 46,000 people. This was a very diverse group, featuring participants of European, African American, Hispanic/Latino, East Asian and South Asian backgrounds.

The subjects were divided into two distinct groups – those with type 2 diabetes, and those without this condition. Some 21,000 were placed into the former group, while the remaining 25,000 were assigned to the latter. Upon reviewing the group’s DNA, the authors were able to pinpoint four distinct genes that could affect the carrier’s diabetes risk. Specifically, this quartet of genes are believed to have rare variants that make the onset of type 2 diabetes more likely.

Searching for New Treatments

The authors believe that their findings represent just the tip of a possible iceberg – they expect that additional research will yield hundreds more such gene variants. In turn, this could allow medical research to develop new diabetes treatments, which would seek to remedy the problems caused by these genetic abnormalities.

Michael Boehnke, the study’s lead author, noted how the diverse backgrounds of the study’s participants allowed for better results. “These results demonstrate the importance of studying large samples of individuals from a wide range of ancestries,” stated Boehnke in a University of Michigan press release. “Most large population studies focus on individuals of European ancestry, and that can make it hard to generalize the results globally. The more diverse the cohort makes for better, more informative science.”

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