CHARLOTTESVILLE — Researchers at the University of Virginia (UVA) have completed a massive genetic study of type 1 diabetes that found new drug targets to treat the disease, according to a press release from UVA Health Systems.
Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, affects 1.3 million adults and 200,000 children across the United States. With type 1 diabetes, the body’s own immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta-cells in the pancreas such that the body doesn’t make enough insulin, a hormone that helps the body burn sugar as fuel. Type 1 diabetes can be treated with insulin, but it is not a cure.
The study examined more than 61,000 participants of various ancestral backgrounds to include people of African and Asian decent. The previous largest study of type 1 diabetes had half as many participants and focused primarily on people of European ancestry.
“Increasing diversity in all aspects of research is ethically important but, in addition, diverse populations potentially provide unique genetic insights that can reduce the number of putatively causal variants on risk, as well as interactions with novel non-genetic risk factors,” said Dr. Stephen S. Rich, of UVA’s Department of Public Health Sciences. “For example, in African-ancestry populations, there is evidence in some genomic regions the type 1 diabetes risk variants have narrowed the list of causal variants, while in other regions, the risk variants are distinct from those in European-ancestry populations. These data are critical for implementing genetic risk scores for identifying those children at high genetic risk for future screening and entry into immune-intervention trials.”
In total, the scientists identified 78 regions on human chromosomes where genes are located that influence our risk for type 1 diabetes. Of those, 36 regions were previously unknown.
Scientists also found specific, naturally occurring gene variations that can influence risk and how the variations act on particular types of cells.
As a result of the study, scientists have gained more understanding of the disease and have been able to find and prioritize potential drug targets.
“Based upon this work, we are now approaching knowledge of almost 90% of the genetic risk for type 1 diabetes, which is about one-half of the total risk for the disease,” Rich said. “This work moves us closer to the goal of precision medicine in type 1 diabetes, when we can use genetics to help identify those at risk for autoantibody screening and early detection, with genetic insights to therapies that would enhance the search for a cure.”
For more information on type 1 diabetes research and treatment, check out the American Diabetes Association website.