Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Diabetes Health Center

Font Size

Diabetes Research Takes a Giant Step Forward

By
WebMD Health News

Sept. 26, 2000 -- The Mexican-American residents of Starr County, Texas, have been poked and prodded and questioned for 19 years without any effect on their very high incidence of type 2 diabetes. But today they can say they are responsible for a major breakthrough in diabetes research -- the discovery of a diabetes gene.

The finding, reported in the journal Nature Genetics, opens up an entirely new approach to understanding -- and perhaps one day treating -- one of the most common serious diseases in Americans.

"A large proportion of the U.S. population is going to get diabetes," says study co-author Craig L. Hanis, PhD. This shows that disease genes that have been elusive aren't going to be elusive much longer. This is kind of the start for finding genes for common diseases -- heart disease, for example."

The gene is linked to the much more common type of diabetes, type 2, which tends to affect individuals in adulthood and has been linked to obesity as well as other environmental factors. The gene, called CAPN10, makes a little-understood enzyme known as calpain-10. This enzyme is found in virtually every cell of the body. Until now, nobody suspected that these enzymes were involved in diabetes -- but all that is about to change.

"What we've got now is a lot of data supporting [the theory that] calpain-10 affects susceptibility to diabetes," study co-author Nancy J. Cox, PhD, tells WebMD. "That suggests this is a brand new pathway for [controlling blood sugar]. I think now people will test this in a variety of ways."

Hanis, a professor of human genetics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, credits the residents of Starr County. "We have been able to establish a relationship with families, and they are incredible -- they let us come in and question them and get blood samples with no immediate benefit for them -- or maybe even for their children. These findings explain about 14% of the diabetes risk of these people. Some will say that is not a lot. What is important is that it identifies calpain-10 as one of the central players in diabetes. We hope this will be useful for everybody."

Leonid Kruglyak, PhD, a geneticist at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, was one of the authors of an editorial accompanying the study. "It's an exciting study," Kruglyak tells WebMD. "The effort to find genes for common diseases has been going on for a decade now, but this is the first suggestion of success. If it holds up, it points out a whole new pathway for looking at diabetes that nobody has been thinking about."

The study results call for rethinking what it means to have a disease gene. A genetic disease is usually thought of a disease caused by a specific mutant gene. But for complex diseases with multiple risk factors -- such as diabetes -- genetic risk is only one part of the disease, and each genetic risk factor affects only a relatively small number of patients.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Check Your Blood Sugar Level Now
What type of diabetes do you have?
Your gender:

Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
Low
0-69
Normal
70-130
High
131+

Your level is currently

If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?

Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.

Get Started

This tool is not intended for women who are pregnant.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

Diabetic tools
Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and more.
woman flexing muscles
10 strength training exercises.
 
Blood sugar test
12 practical tips.
Tom Hanks
Stars living with type 1 or type 2.
 
Woman serving fast food from window
Video
Can Vinegar Treat Diabetes
Video
 
Middle aged person
Tool
are battery operated toothbrushes really better
Video
 

Prediabetes How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Article
type 2 diabetes
Slideshow
 
food fitness planner
Tool
Are You at Risk for Dupuytrens Contracture
Article