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What's in a gene?

23 August 2012

JDRF funded scientists at the University of Cambridge have identified genes that can predict the age at which people develop type 1 diabetes.

Researchers analysed the genes of almost 15,000 people with type 1 to see if they could link specific genetic variations with the age at which the participants were diagnosed. They found that certain gene variations are more common in people who were diagnosed at a younger age while others are mostly found in people who were diagnosed at an older age.

The researchers think that the variations common in people diagnosed at a younger age may cause a more aggressive immune attack. On the other hand, they think that the genetic changes found in people diagnosed at an older age may offer some degree of protection against type 1 in early life.

Type 1 is in part a genetic condition as there is an increased risk of developing it if a family member has the condition, and we have now identified more than 50 genetic changes that affect a person's risk of developing type 1. Working out how these genetic changes cause the immune system to attack insulin producing beta cells may help researchers to predict who is at risk of developing type 1.

However, having one or more of these genes does not mean for certain that type 1 will develop - scientists think an 'environmental' trigger is probably also needed. JDRF is supporting research that is trying to identify what these environmental triggers may be.

Maebh Kelly, Research Communication Officer at JDRF said, ‘This study gives us an interesting insight into how genes can influence the development of type 1. Understanding more about the early stages of type 1 may in the future help scientists to come up with strategies to cure, treat and prevent the condition.’ 

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