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Researchers Break The Genetic Code For Diabetes

Update Date: Jun 19, 2014 11:04 AM EDT

Researchers have reportedly mapped a special gene variant among Greenlanders that plays a significant role in the development of type 2 diabetes. The findings of the research could be used to improve prevention and treatment options for those genetically at-risk. 

Researchers carried out the genetic analysis based on blood samples from around 5,000 people which is 10% of the entire population. 

"We have found a gene variant in the population of Greenland which markedly increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The gene variant is only found in Greenlanders and explains 15% of cases of diabetes in the country," explained Professor Torben Hansen from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen, in the press release. 

"For some of the analyses, we therefore had to develop new methods, and for others, we used methods which were only developed recently," added postdoc Ida Moltke from the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago who is also one of the first two authors of the article and responsible for statistical analyses. 

Researchers through advanced gene chip technology analyzed the 5,000 blood samples for 250,000 gene variants that play a role in metabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. 

"Our attention was quite soon caught by a particular variant of the TBC1D4 gene which controls glucose uptake in muscle cells. Roughly speaking, this means that in carriers of this particular gene variant, the uptake of glucose by the muscles is hampered, for example after a meal which results in raised blood glucose levels. However, this particular gene variant is primarily found in Greenlanders, and about 23% of the Greenlandic population are carriers of the variant which prevents the optimum functioning of the glucose transporters in the cells. The gene variant is not found in Europeans at all," said Assistant Professor Niels Grarup from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen, the other first author of the article, in the press release.

Around 60 percent of the tested individuals aged 40+ who inherited the gene variant from both their mother and father had type 2 diabetes and for the same 60+ age group the figure was recorded to be 80%, according to press release. 

" If you have inherited the gene variant from both your parents, the risk of developing diabetes is, of course, extremely high. This was the case for 4% of the Greenlanders we examined. We already know of a number of gene variants in European populations which slightly raise the risk of developing diabetes, but this new gene variant has a much more pronounced effect than we have ever seen before," said Niels Grarup.

The research has been published in the journal Nature

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