Is there a “diabetes gene”? A gene that could simply be “turned off” to avoid or at least significantly reduce the possibility of getting diabetes. How about a gene that cures diabetes?
Unfortunately, like stem cell research, genetic research is far from conclusive. In fact, after reading some recent press reports, I was hoping for a fairly straightforward article to write summarizing these reports.
Well, as you can guess, it didn’t happen! The more I looked into it, the more I learned. However, this is not to say that there are not some encouraging breakthroughs. This is particularly the case concerning type 1 diabetes and gene therapy.
Type 2 Diabetes
First, let’s take a look at gene research regarding type 2 diabetes. The research is murkier in this area than initially expected.
One of the latest studies getting some noteworthy “buzz” concerning the role of genes in the development of type 2 diabetes was recently published in January 2013. (note 1) This study identified the TRIP-Br2 gene as being responsible for obesity and insulin resistance.
The theory is that if you could block the expression of this gene, think turning it off like a light switch, then you could reduce the possibility of becoming obese and you can lower insulin resistance. This study is actually encouraging, particularly for the prevention of diabetes. Mice were used to complete the research and further human studies need to be done.
It is important to note that there are many other studies that do not link the development of type 2 diabetes to just one possible gene. For example, a study published in July 2012 noted that at least 50 genes could explain the hereditary factors in developing type 2 diabetes. (note 2) However, this study was quick to point out that these 50 genes only represented approximately 15 percent of the possible genetic hereditary factors in developing type 2 diabetes.
Still other studies suggest that ethnicity may have a role in which genes can lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes. For instance, a 2013 research survey concluded that the TCF7L2 gene was an increased factor in type 2 diabetes development in Chinese, just like it is in Europeans. (note 3) I didn’t find any studies linking this gene to Africans, Hispanics or other ethnic groups.
The bottom line is that there is an ever increasing emphasis placed on studying genes in the prevention and cure of type 2 diabetes. However, despite encouraging results, it is still an ongoing process.
Type 1 Diabetes
Now, here is where it gets a little more interesting. The common prevailing theory is that type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease. This means that something triggers the body to attack and destroy the insulin producing part of the pancreas.
Without insulin, you can’t process glucose (the fuel your body runs on) and you will die unless you take insulin injections.
In 2013, the Journal of Gene Medicine published an incredible diabetes gene study. Researchers in Australia had reversed type 1 diabetes in non-obese mice. (note 4) The scientist performed surgery on the diabetic mice, injecting genetic material into the mice livers. The result was that type 1 diabetes was reversed, permanently, for the first time. I would note that other studies have also claimed to reverse type 1 diabetes using gene therapy.
Nonetheless, this is more good news for people with type 1 diabetes. Obviously, human studies will need to be done. However, this study provides a bright ray of hope for a cure.
The takeaways from the above is that there is an ever increasing emphasis on gene therapy as a treatment, cure and prevention of diabetes. In just the past year, there have been some remarkable studies that deserve further attention in the years to come. I would also note that there are many Diabetes gene studies. The above referenced studies are but a handful.
While we all want a “right now” solution, steady progress is being made in the race to find the right “diabetes gene” leading to the cure and prevention of this condition.
1. Ablation of TRIP-Br2, a regulator of fat lipolysis, thermogenesis and oxidative metabolism, prevents diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance, Research Division, Joslin Diabetes Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts (January 2013).
2. A systems genetics approach identifies genes and pathways for type 2 diabetes in human islets, Cell Metab. (July 2012)
3. Meta-analysis of associations between TCF7L2 polymorphisms and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus in the Chinese population, BMC Med Genet. (January 2013).
4. Long term reversal of diabetes in non obese diabetic mice by liver-directed gene therapy, J Gene Med. (January 5, 2013).