Published on 22 February 2024

Largest study on genetic risk for type 2 diabetes published.

The findings of the largest international study of its kind have identified parts of the genome associated with the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The study involved more than 2.5 million people in diverse population groups from around the world.

Researchers hope their findings could potentially pave the way for genetically determined predictors of type 2 diabetes complications to allow earlier interventions.

The study, published in Nature, was co-led by Professor Andrew Morris from The University of Manchester and is a collaboration of more than 350 authors from 130 studies around the world.

The researchers scanned complete sets of DNA (genomes) from 2.5 million people – a sample size almost three times larger than in previous studies – to identify variations in the genetic sequence associated with the development and progression of type 2 diabetes.

More than 400 million people worldwide are living with type 2 diabetes, when the body is not able to make enough of the hormone insulin, or is producing insulin which cannot be effectively used by the body (insulin resistance). This causes the level of sugar in the blood to become too high.

Left untreated, high blood sugar levels can cause serious health problems and complications that affect the eyes, kidney and nerves. People with type 2 diabetes are also more likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke.

A person performing a blood sugar check

In addition to factors such as weight and exercise, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is the most common type of diabetes, is also linked to genetics. Variations of the genetic code can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and its complications, which can be passed down through families.

The research team revealed more than 600 places in the genome – a biological blueprint needed for life to exist – which increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, of which 145 had previously been unidentified.

The DNA of more than 2.5 million people were studied, including 428,452 people who have type 2 diabetes from six different ancestry groups: African American, East Asian, European, Hispanic, South African and South Asian.

Studying a range of ancestry groups ensures that the findings of the research are relevant to diverse populations across the globe, where type 2 diabetes is a major health concern.

Researchers were able to generate genetic risk scores associated with developing harmful type 2 diabetes complications such as coronary artery disease and diabetes-related kidney disease.

Senior co-corresponding author Professor Andrew Morris, Professor of Statistical Genetics at The University of Manchester and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), said: “Our work has improved our knowledge of the biological processes that lead to the development of type 2 diabetes and progression to its complications in diverse population groups across the world.

“Better understanding of the genetic causes of the disease has the potential to allow us to predict these complications before they occur and may help put in place early interventions to delay or even prevent these debilitating medical conditions."

Read the report in Nature
Read more about type 2 diabetes

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