Study reveals new genetic risk factor for type 2 diabetes

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Posted December 27, 2013

An international team of researchers in Mexico and the United States has uncovered a new genetic clue that contributes to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, particularly the elevated risk among Mexican and other Latin American populations.

The team, known as the SIGMA (Slim Initiative in Genomic Medicine for the Americas) Type 2 Diabetes Consortium, performed the largest genetic study to date in Mexican and Mexican American populations, discovering a risk gene for type 2 diabetes that had gone undetected in previous efforts. People who carry the higher risk version of the gene are 25 percent more likely to have diabetes than those who do not, and people who inherited copies from both parents are 50 percent more likely to have diabetes. The higher risk form of the gene has been found in up to half of people who have recent Native American ancestry, including Latin Americans. The variant is found in about 20 percent of East Asians and is rare in populations from Europe and Africa.

The elevated frequency of this risk gene in Latin Americans could account for as much as 20 percent of the populations’ increased prevalence of type 2 diabetes—the origins of which are not well understood.

“To date, genetic studies have largely used samples from people of European or Asian ancestry, which makes it possible to miss culprit genes that are altered at different frequencies in other populations,” said co-corresponding author José Florez, a Broad associate member, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an Assistant Physician in the Diabetes Unit and the Center for Human Genetic Research at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

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