Published on 8 August 2016

Researchers in Sweden and Finland have been studying families with a history of diabetes to look for clues into whether the condition may be caused by genes.

The collaborative study between researchers at Lund University in Sweden, the Regeneron Genetics Center LLC (RGC), in New York, US and the University of Helsinki in Finland, aims to find ways to predict diabetes, the causes of the condition and highlight the potential discovery of new treatments.

The study will involve more than 9,000 people and will look at their DNA for genetic mutations that could be involved in the risk or progression of diabetes.

Image of DNA strands.

Family history will be studied to see the role of genes in the risk of developing a health condition, like diabetes

A mutation means that a variation in the molecular building blocks of DNA has happened – for example, if the code for how a protein should be produced has changed. This could lead to a change in its function and therefore alter the risk of developing a health condition.

Leif Groop, Head of the Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden, and Chairman of the Diabetes Wellness Network Sverige Research Advisory Board, said: “By studying hereditarily transmitted mutations in families, we can understand which causes are genetic, and which are environmental, i.e. due to lifestyle.”

The collaboration enables mapping the risk variations in the genome of the 9,000 participants of the so-called Botnia study.

Participants in the study will be people with diabetes and their relatives, and include 1,400 families in Finland and southern Sweden. The Botnia study is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Researchers said the Finnish population was special as it is fairly similar (homogenous), genetically speaking – which could be an advantage in genetic studies.

Researchers hoped that the sequencing and genotyping of DNA will help them find out which mutations are linked to different conditions related to diabetes, such as insulin sensitivity.

Nikolay Oskolkov, Researcher at the Lund University Diabetes Centre, added: “If we can understand the cause, we can study the molecular mechanism behind the condition, which would enable the development of new drugs to treat it.”

Dr Eleanor Kennedy, DRWF Research Manager, said: “The Botnia Study is a large, long-term family study that was started in 1990 on the west coast of Finland. This latest research will use this fantastic generational genetic resource to look for as yet undiscovered genetic alterations that may give clinicians a better understanding of the risk of a person being diagnosed with diabetes or, once diagnosed, the rate at which the diabetes and the complications of the condition may progress in a given patient.”

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