AsianScientist (Jun. 17, 2020) – In the largest genetic study of type 2 diabetes (T2D) in East Asian individuals to date, scientists were able to identify 61 new genetic variants that are associated with the risk of developing the metabolic disease. Their findings were published in Nature.
T2D is a chronic metabolic disease that affects hundreds of million people worldwide. A result of insufficient insulin production and insulin resistance, the condition is caused by a complex interplay between both genetic and environmental factors.
To understand the association between an individual’s genetic makeup and T2D risk, populations studies have been conducted to identify genetic variants that contribute to the development of the disease. However, most of the genetic variants that have been identified thus far were observed in populations of predominantly European ancestry. This poses a problem because genetic variants that are rare in European populations might not have been detected, while the ones that were detected have limited use for assessing T2D risk in individuals of non-European descent.
An international team of 113 investigators has now devised a study using data from over 400,000 East Asian individuals to identify new genetic variants associated with T2D. Specifically, the researchers analyzed the data from 23 separate studies, which included individuals from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and the US. To date, it is the largest known study of its kind on East Asian individuals.
“We were able to find novel variants despite much larger studies done previously because we were analyzing a predominantly East Asian population, where certain genetic variants are more common,” explained Assistant Professor Sim Xueling, a corresponding author of the study from the National University of Singapore. “The new genetic variants we identified are relatively rare in European populations, which might explain why they were undiscovered previously.”
Of the 61 new genetic variants that the researchers uncovered in this study, some were found near genes involved in skeletal muscle and pancreatic function, while others were linked to genes that affect the development of fat tissues. Importantly, these genes not been tied to T2D before and may help to explain why East Asians are at risk of developing the condition even when they are not considered obese.
The researchers also observed that the distinct genetic variants they found in close proximity may not necessarily act through the same gene. For example, one genetic variant may influence the production of insulin, while another variant close by may affect the uptake of sugar in skeletal muscle cells.
“Overall, these results help further our understanding of the genetic basis for T2D across different populations, as well as providing new targets for T2D therapy,” said Professor Karen Mohlke, a co-corresponding author at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, US.
The article can be found at: Spracklen et al. (2020) Identification of Type 2 Diabetes Loci in 433,540 East Asian Individuals.
Source: National University of Singapore; Photo: Shutterstock.
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