New research is looking at those who are genetically prone not to get diabetes. (Photo: Getty Images)
Diabetes is one of the top public health concerns in the United States, with no cure — 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3 percent of the population, have diabetes. Only 1.25 million of those cases are type 1 diabetes, the type you’re born with. The rest suffer from type 2 — the seventh-leading cause of death in the country.
Researchers are beginning to dive into genetics to determine better treatment and prevention tactics. The latest finding? According to a new study, a specific gene mutation appears to protect people from developing type 2 diabetes — a finding that may help experts develop new interventions.
Type 2 diabetes affects the production of insulin, the vital glucose-regulating hormone, and its ability to control metabolism. The body’s failure to manage blood sugar can lead to heart attacks and other serious health problems, including kidney disease, blindness, and infections that can result in the amputation of limbs.
Along with researchers from Asia and Europe, Mark O. Goodarzi, MD, director of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, analyzed the genes of 81,000 people without type 2 diabetes. They then took those genes and stacked them up against the genetic information of men and women with the diabetes.
Related: 5 Natural Ways to Prevent Diabetes
After comparing the data, the researchers found a mutation in the gene for the glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor (GLP1R), which appears to be protective against type 2 diabetes, reducing risk by 14 percent. Computer models show that carrying the mutation dramatically changes the shape of the receptor, which probably affects functionality, thereby reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
According to Goodarzi, the mutation is also associated with lower fasting glucose levels, which should lower a person’s risk of diabetes. “We hypothesize that the mutation may activate the receptor during the fasting state, leading to increased insulin production and consequently lower fasting sugar levels,” he told Yahoo Health.
In the general population, Goodarzi says, only one in 35 carry this mutation — so it’s not superabundant. Why does it matter? This study is one of the few to discover a gene mutation that researchers are already targeting as they develop treatments and drugs for diabetes, but knowing that carrying a GLP1R mutation may affect the body can help scientists hone more effective methods of management.
“Almost 100 genetic variations that influence diabetes risk have been discovered in recent years,” Goodarzi said. “These represent a rich source of targets that can be used to develop future medications to prevent or treat diabetes.”
So watch for even more scientific work on genetics as researchers better understand how to curb a growing epidemic.