Six New Genes Found Linked with Diabetes in South Asian People

India has the largest number of diabetics in the world, and has been called the globe’s “Diabetes Capital”.  People on the subcontinent are up to four times more likely to get Type 2 diabetes than white Europeans are.  This in turn leads to a higher likelihood of heart disease and strokes.

Around 95 per cent of diabetics have Type 2 diabetes, which typically affects people in later life who have been overweight for a long time and who take little exercise.  Type 2 diabetes is also associated with a diet rich in sugar and fat, and has been seen to affect people of some ethnic backgrounds more than others.  Although Indians in some areas eat large amounts of fat and sugar in rich curries and very sweet milk-based desserts, others keep to a very healthy diet for religious reasons, strictly vegetarian with many fresh vegetables and little fat.  So why is this disease of overindulgence and obesity so rife here?

The answer may lie in their genetic makeup, a new study carried out by researchers around the world using the DNA of more than 58,000 participants of South Asian descent.  Scientists found no fewer than six genes that are involved in the early development of diabetes in people fromIndia,Pakistan, Bangladesh, andSri Lanka.

The number of diabetics inIndiais predicted to rise to 69.9 million by 2025, having more than doubled from 19 million to 40.9 million between 1995 and 2007.  This means 11% ofIndia’s urban residents and 3% of country people aged over 15 are diabetic, compared with 24 million, or 8% in theUS.  The discrepancy between city numbers and rural numbers may be connected with the sedentary lifestyle of many people in towns as compared to farm workers who engage in physical labor on a daily basis.  As Indians adopt western lifestyles and dietary habits diabetes figures can only rise higher.  Statistics show that South Asian people become more prone to Type 2 diabetes at lower levels of obesity, or lower BMIs than whites do.

A previous study carried out by Indian doctor Sonia Anand showed South Asians were constitutionally more likely to collect fat around their organs – a warning flag for diabetes as well as heart disease.  Dr Anand said Asians seemed to have less capacity for storing fat under the skin, so when they consumed more calories than they needed, fat was deposited in the abdomen on the liver and other organs.  The study was published in the Public Library of Science journal.

Now researchers have identified the six gene variations that lead to diabetes by examining the genome of 18,731 people with diabetes and more than 39,000 healthy individuals.  Their findings move medical science a step nearer to gene therapy for diabetes, as well as the development of better drug treatments and earlier diagnosis.

Professor Jaspal Kooner, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at London’s Imperial College, who led the study, said, “We have shown that the genetic variants discovered here in South Asians also exist and contribute to diabetes in Europeans.”

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