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Scientists have identified new genetic variants that could lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Genes could protect against Type 2 diabetes, new study finds

Scientists in Exeter and London have identified seven new genetic variants that could lower a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

The research studied 451,000 people involved in the UK Biobank to find variations in certain genes that were linked to levels of body fat. The findings were then compared with data from existing studies to narrow down the results to see if genetic changes were linked to high levels of body fat, but with the characteristics of a ‘healthy’ body. 

Previous studies have linked variations in genes associated with obesity to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. This study goes a step further, identifying new genetic variants and building understanding around the underlying reasons for this reduced risk.

They identified 14 ‘favourable’ genetic variants, including seven already identified in previous studies, which appear to protect against Type 2 diabetes. They found that people with these ‘favourable’ genes had a higher percentage of fat in their body but lower levels of fat in their liver, and appeared to store the extra fat under the skin (known as subcutaneous fat), rather than around their organs (known as visceral fat).

Type 2 diabetes is a serious, lifelong condition where your blood glucose level is too high, this is caused because the body doesn’t make enough insulin, or the insulin doesn’t work properly. Currently 4.6 million people in the UK have diabetes and approximately 90 per cent of these have Type 2 diabetes.

The cause of Type 2 diabetes isn’t known, but up to three in five cases of Type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented through making simple lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy balanced diet and doing regular exercise.

Dr Hanieh Yaghootkar, lead researcher of the study, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “We live at a time when our environment is changing the world’s population body size to its upper limit, leading to increased prevalence of Type 2 diabetes. Our study provides evidence that people store fat in different places, which is genetically determined. Some people are able to carry extra fat in a safe place, preventing it from amassing around important organs like the liver, and reducing their risk of Type 2 diabetes”

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director for Research at Diabetes UK, said: “We know that obesity is one of the strongest risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, but there are many people who are overweight or obese and don’t go on to develop the condition.

“Understanding why this might be, at a genetic level, is incredibly useful. It can help us to understand who could be at risk of Type 2 diabetes, how to reduce their risk, and potentially personalise treatment options in the future.”

The annual Diabetes UK Professional Conference brings together world class scientists, researchers and healthcare professionals to present new research and health programmes to tackle the UK’s diabetes crisis. For more information, click here.

This year, Diabetes UK are also hosting the DUKPC Insider event for people with diabetes and their family and friends. It will provide a unique opportunity for them to hear about exciting new developments in diabetes research, innovation and technology. For more information, click here.

To read more about Diabetes research at Exeter, click here.

Date: 13 March 2018