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'Jack Spratt' gene explains diabetes in lean people

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Researchers have isolated a gene that predisposes lean people to type 2 diabetes

Several reasons have been proposed about why thin people – not just obese – develop type 2 diabetes. In addition to a recent finding that some people are obese but healthy and diabetes free, researchers have now identified the ‘Jack Spratt’ gene that predisposes people to the disease.

Finding shows obesity drives type 2 diabetes for most, but not all

The finding is the first to show lean people develop type 2 diabetes from genes, while for others the cause is associated with obesity and inactivity.

According to the study authors,: Individuals with Type 2 diabetes (T2D) can present with variable clinical characteristics. It is well known that obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, yet patients can vary considerably—there are many lean diabetes patients and many overweight people without diabetes. "

The research team included scientists from around the world and was led by investigators from Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry (PCMD), University of Exeter.

Genetic data was gathered from both lean and obese people with type 2 diabetes. The investigation also included gene data from a group of healthy people, as a control.

The scientists were able to pinpoint specific variants near the gene, LAMA1, which was linked to type 2 diabetes risk for the first time and associated only with lean patients with diabetes.

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New diabetes treatment possible

Dr. John Perry, one of the lead authors of the study, said in a press release, "Whenever a new disease gene is found, there is always the potential for it to be used as a drug target for new therapies or as a biomarker, but more work is needed to see whether or not this new gene has that potential."

Perry adds that it’s the first time researchers have discovered a type 2 diabetes variant like the 'Jack Spratt' diabetes gene. He says researchers aren’t sure why the gene behaves differently in one group of patients and not in another.

He explains it may be that diabetes is more than one disease, representing a variety of subgroups.

The study proves, for the first time, that there is indeed a genetic predisposition to diabetes among lean people; something that has long be suspected. Finding the so-called Jack Spratt diabetes gene might lend more insight into the disease and better treatment options.

Perry JRB, Voight BF, Yengo L, Amin N, Dupuis J, et al. (2012) Stratifying Type 2 Diabetes Cases by BMI Identifies Genetic Risk Variants in LAMA1 and Enrichment for Risk Variants in Lean Compared to Obese Cases. PLoS Genet 8(5): e1002741. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002741

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