Study: Genetic Variants Help Predict Type 2 Diabetes

October 2006 - Looking at groups of genetic changes may help to predict who will get type 2 diabetes according to a study led by scientists from the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter. In the study published in the open access medical journal PLoS Medicine, researchers from four centres in the UK looked at three common genetic variants in three genes that have previously been shown to increase the chance of developing diabetes, and assessed whether the three variants together were likely to be more predictive than any one.

In a study of more than 6000 participants (2409 people with diabetes and 3668 healthy controls) they showed that each increase in the number of abnormal gene variants carried increased the chance of having diabetes. Each risk variant increased the risk of developing diabetes by 28% and the risk multiplied with each additional risk variant inherited. This meant people with six abnormal genetic variants had a risk of diabetes over 5 times higher than people who had inherited none.

Type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly common. Many factors influence a person's chance of getting diabetes and these can be broadly grouped into two categories: environmental and genetic. Environmental risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes in later life are obesity, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. The genetic risk of diabetes results from inheriting a number of variants in many different genes. Most of these gene variants are common in the population but each gene variant only mildly increases the risk that a person possessing it will develop the disease.

This analysis suggests that using information on multiple variants, rather than just one, is likely to be more accurate in predicting future risk of diabetes. This could provide a tool to help target members of the population who are at highest risk and hence the most likely to benefit from approaches aimed at preventing diabetes. Precisely how this genetic information should be used alongside the established preventative measure of intensive lifestyle intervention requires further study, but the authors conclude that "This approach may have a role in future preventative measures for common, polygenic diseases."

Citation: Weedon MN, McCarthy MI, Hitman G, Walker M, Groves CJ, et al. (2006) Combining information from common type 2 diabetes risk polymorphisms improves disease prediction. PLoS Med 3(10): e374.

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Source: PLoS Medicine