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Genetic Screening May ID Diabetes Risk

But Identifying Traditional Risks Such as Obesity, Family History May Be Just as Useful
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 19, 2008 -- Genetic screening can help identify people at risk for type 2 diabetes, but it adds little to traditional methods for determining risk, two new studies show.

Researchers searched for 16 recently identified genetic variants associated with an increased risk for diabetes in one study and 18 diabetes-linked variants in another.

In both studies, the more genetic variants the participants had, the greater their diabetes risk.

But genetic screening was only marginally more predictive than recognized risk factors already used to determine type 2 diabetes, such as family history, obesity, and impaired glucose tolerance, says diabetes researcher James B. Meigs, MD, MPH, of Massachusetts General Hospital.

"The genomic revolution is here, and it is possible to predict risk for diseases like diabetes by assessing genetic risk factors," he tells WebMD. "But this field is in its infancy. The message here is, 'stay tuned.'"

Checking for Genetic Variants

In all, about 25 genetic variants associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes have been identified -- just a small fraction of the 500 or so that experts believe they will eventually find, Meigs says. "Once we have identified more of these genes, genetic screening may prove to be more useful for predicting risk."

Meigs led one of the two newly published studies, which appear in the Nov. 20 issue of TheNew England Journal of Medicine.

In their attempt to use genetic screening to predict type 2 diabetes risk, Meigs and colleagues looked for 18 diabetes-associated genetic variants in blood samples from just over 2,300 participants in the Framingham Heart Study.

These participants were followed for 28 years, during which time 255 developed type 2 diabetes.

Each participant was assigned a genotype score, based on the number of genetic variants he or she had.

The researchers then compared the predictive value of this score to family history or other risk factors, including obesity as measured by body mass index, age, blood pressure, cholesterol, fasting glucose, and tryglyceride level.

They found that the genotype score resulted in risk reclassification of no more than 4% of the study participants.

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