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Published: 2010-01-17

Umeå researchers in international study finding gene variants linked to diabetes

NEWS Several researchers at Umeå University have participated in a major international study that identifies the specific genetic defects that cause diabetes.

In a study published on January 17 in Nature Genetics, the Meta-analysis of Glucose and Insulin-related traits Consortium (MAGIC) reports the identities of nine new genetic loci that cause high levels of blood glucose, the hallmark of diabetes mellitus. The study also showed that several of these genes influence insulin levels and raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease.

Overall, samples from almost 50,000 non-diabetic people were studied using a method called a genome-wide association study. Data from 75,000 additional people were used to confirm these results. The study is one of the largest of its kind to date and involved scientists from 168 academic institutions around the globe, including one from Umeå University, led by Associate Professor Paul Franks. Associate Professor Olov Rolandsson (head of the Västerbotten Diabetes Registry) and Prof. Göran Hallmans (head of the Umeå Medical Biobank) also contributed to the project. The Umeå team studied whether the DNA variants identified by their MAGIC collaborators influence levels of glucose and insulin (the hormone that counterbalances blood glucose levels) in around five thousand participants from the Västerbotten Intervention Programme.

 Diabetes is a devastating disease owing to the severe damage high blood glucose levels can cause to the eyes, kidneys, heart, vessels, and nerves. As such, approximately 75% of people with diabetes die of cardiovascular disease. In Sweden, roughly 350,000 people (3-4% of the population) have type 2 diabetes, with the rate at which people develop the disease expected to rise during the next decade. Although type 2 diabetes is caused primarily by too little physical activity, unhealthy eating, and obesity, inherited factors also play an important role. Until recently, little was known of the specific genetic defects causing the disease. This latest study represents a major leap forward in mapping out the locations of these defects, which is already helping scientists study ways of preventing or treating disease.

The Umeå team is centrally involved in several such follow-up studies. One major initiative is the GLACIER Study, a collaboration between Umeå University, Harvard University (U.S.) and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (U.K) involving twenty thousand participants from the Västerbottens Intervention Programme. This study aims to identify how diet and physical activity can be used to manipulate the way in which certain genes function in order to prevent diseases such as type 2 diabetes. The Umeå team is also centrally involved in a European Union project called the Interact Study, which also seeks to identify ways in which lifestyle behaviors can be used to target diabetes genes.

For more information, please contact:Dr. Paul FranksAssociate Professor, Department of Public Health and Clinical MedicinePhone: +46 (0)90-785 33 54
E-mail: paul.franks@medicin.umu.se
Dupuis J., et al.: New genetic loci implicated in fasting glucose homeostasis and their impact on type 2 diabetes risk. Nature Genetics. (E-pub 17 Jan 2010)
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