By Robert Preidt
THURSDAY, May 23, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- It has long been known that lifestyle affects a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Now, researchers report that they have identified rare variants of four genes that may also play a part.
For the study, an international team of scientists analyzed protein-coding genes from nearly 21,000 people with type 2 diabetes and 25,000 people without diabetes across a range of ethnicities. That included people of European, African American, Hispanic/Latino, East Asian and South Asian ancestries.
The genes identified in the study and the proteins they encode are potential targets for new diabetes medicines, and may help improve understanding and treatment of the disease, according to the study authors.
In addition, the data suggests that hundreds more genes linked with diabetes will be identified in the future, the researchers said.
"These results demonstrate the importance of studying large samples of individuals from a wide range of ancestries," said senior study author Michael Boehnke. He is director of the Center for Statistical Genetics at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, in Ann Arbor.
"Most large population studies focus on individuals of European ancestry, and that can make it hard to generalize the results globally. The more diverse the cohort makes for better, more informative science," Boehnke explained in a university news release.
Study first author Jason Flannick added, "We now have an updated picture of the role of rare DNA variations in diabetes." Flannick is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and the division of genetics and genomics at Boston Children's Hospital.
"These rare variants potentially provide a much more valuable resource for drug development than previously thought. We can actually detect evidence of their disease association in many genes that could be targeted by new medications or studied to understand the fundamental processes underlying disease," Flannick explained in the news release.
More than 400 million people worldwide have diabetes, and most of those cases are type 2, according to the World Health Organization. Diabetes is believed to be the seventh leading cause of death worldwide.
The study was published May 22 in the journal Nature. The findings are publicly available online through the Type 2 Diabetes Knowledge Portal, which means scientists worldwide can access and use them in their own research.