People with a certain gene may have up to a 50 percent higher likelihood of developing diabetes.

Many individuals who currently live with diabetes know that the disease can be at least partially caused by genetic factors. According to a study recently published in Nature, one new risk factor may be something clinicians may want to examine in all of their patients for the potential of pre-diabetes or its onset. Diabetic individuals who suffer from chronic wounds may have a high likelihood of the gene.

“To date, genetic studies have largely used samples from people of European or Asian ancestry, which makes it possible to miss culprit genes that are altered at different frequencies in other populations,” explained Jose Florez, one of the study’s co-authors and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The Study

This research was conducted by a team known as SIGMA, which stands for Slim Initiative in Genomic Medicine for the Americas. The study examined a gene, called SLC16A11, that is primarily found in individuals who have recent Native American ancestry, as well as Native Latin American ancestry – researchers found that up to 50 percent of study participants with this particular ethnic background may have this gene.

Interestingly, only about 20 percent of individuals who have primarily African, European and East Asian ancestry have the gene. Because humans are thought to have originated in Africa, most genes that are found throughout the human populations are also largely present in a high percentage of people of African ancestry, the study explained. This gene’s predominance in solely Native American and Native Latin American populations goes against this.

No study before this has largely looked at the population that was examined. Due to the results, new drugs and initiatives may be developed around the gene and its high risk factor for the development of diabetes.

“In addition to validating the relevance to Mexico of already known genetic risk factors, we discovered a major new risk factor that is much more common in Latin American populations than in other populations around the world,” explained project leader Teresa Tusie-Luna, a principal researcher at the Biomedical Research Institutes at the National University of Mexico. “We are already using this information to design new studies that aim to understand how this variant influences metabolism and disease, with the hope of eventually developing improved risk assessment and possibly therapy.”

Further Research

After highlighting SLC16A11’s role in the genetic risk factors for diabetes, researchers looked at how changing the levels of the gene’s protein could possibly alter the amount of a type of fat that has been associated with the risk of diabetes. Right now, they are hypothesizing that the gene may affect that levels of a certain metabolite (currently unknown) that increases the risk factors for Type II diabetes. However, only further research will determine whether or not this connection is indeed a factor in the disease.

Clinician’s Role

A number of risk factors have been associated with the onset of Type II diabetes, but few have been as strongly associated as genetics. According to the American Diabetes Association, when one identical twin has diabetes, the other twin, regardless of lifestyle choices has a risk factor of 3 in 4 for developing the disease.

With the results of the recent study, it may be worth developing a more in-depth chart of different patient’s ancestry to see how high his or her likelihood of having certain genes may be. Although environmental and physical factors can play a part, genetics provides one of the best clues to examining whether or not an individual is at risk for diabetes, and whether their wound may be due to symptoms that are common in diabetics and pre-diabetics.

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