Genetic mutation could lead to diabetes-preventing drugs

Credit: Morguefile

According to the World Health Organization, over 300 million people around the world have diabetes. The most common form, Type 2, is usually attributed to an unhealthy lifestyle and obesity: it happens when a person’s body can’t automatically control blood-sugar levels. Some unhealthy (but otherwise lucky) people have a rare genetic mutation that keeps them from getting diabetes, even if they smoke, are overweight and don’t exercise often.

A team of geneticists analyzed medical data for over 100,000 people in Europe, searching for diabetes risk factors (obesity, smoking and sedentary lifestyles), and found that a small group of people, who in theory should have diabetes, didn’t. So they decided to find out why. They studied data from a few of those people’s genes, and discovered that these folks had a mutation that destroyed a copy of a gene known as ZnT8.

These results were surprising because in animals, a mutation like this actually causes diabetes. In fact, science journals refused the team’s initial research paper because it contradicted previous animal studies. The team went back and included even more results from the genetic database, and discovered something even more remarkable: this genetic mutation does not seem to have any ill effects at all.

While we can't all turn into mutants to avoid diabetes, drug companies may be able to create new diabetes medications that mimic the mutation that prevents the disease. Unfortunately, producing a drug could take another 10 to 20 years, so for now, the best preventative is to take care of yourself by eating well, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight.

Via New York Times

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