Gene Variants Link Diabetes and Heart Disease

The connection between type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease (CHD) has become clearer.

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine in the University of Pennsylvania have identified 16 brand new diabetes genetic risk factors and one brand new heart disease risk factor after analyzing the genome sequence information for more than 250,000 individuals of South Asian, East European or Asian descent.

The research group provided new insights about the mechanisms of the two disorders and showed that the majority of the sites on the genome associated with higher diabetes risk will also be associated with a greater CHD risk.

“Identifying these gene variants associated with both type 2 diabetes and CHD risk in principle opens up opportunities to reduce the risk of both results with a single medication,” research co-senior writer Kenneth Saleheen, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, said in a statement. “From a drug development perspective, it would make sense to concentrate on those pathways that are most closely linked to both disorders.”

Half of those identified sites had a link to a particular gene variant that affects risk for both diseases and also the common genetic risk factors influence biological pathways, such as immunity, cell regeneration and heart growth.

Of the eight particular gene variants closely associated with altered risk for both diseases, seven seemed to increase risk for both diseases. The eighth–a variant of this receptor for its cholesterol-transport protein ApoE–has been correlated with a higher diabetes risk but a reduce CHD risk.

They also found that the risk genes for type 2 diabetes are much more likely to be associated with greater CHD risk instead of the contrary.

“Using evidence from human genetics, it should be possible to design drugs for type-2 diabetes that have either neutral or beneficial effects on CHD risk,” Saleheen said. “However it is crucial to identify and further de-prioritize pathways that decrease the risk of type-2 diabetes but increase the risk of CHD.”

The researchers also found that the genomic regions implicated as dual diabetes-CHD hazard locations that encircle targets of some present drugs and diabetes-linked gene variants, often differ in their apparent effects on CHD risk, based on their mechanics.

Type 2 diabetes affects more than 380 million people globally.

“I am optimistic that with the advanced genomic engineering methods now available, we’ll be able to rapidly convert our human genetics observations to concrete details concerning the molecular mechanisms involved with both heart disease and diabetes,” co-senior author Benjamin Voight, Ph.D., an associate professor of Genetics, said in a statement.

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