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Diabetes causes found in junk DNA

Monday January 13th, 2014

British scientists are investigating so-called junk DNA to find new clues about the causes of diabetes, it was revealed last night.

A new study suggests that sequences in this junk DNA are found surrounding variant genes known to be linked to type 2 diabetes.

The researchers from Imperial College, London, reported their findings in Nature Genetics last night.

Junk DNA gained its name because until recently scientists thought it played little role even though it comprises 98% of human DNA.

But recent studies, arising from the unravelling of the human genome, have suggested it may have a far-reaching role in human biology.

The latest study, backed by the Wellcome Trust, centred on type 2 diabetes and researchers said their findings provide new clues about why insulin-producing cells begin to behave "differently" in these people.

Researcher Professor Jorge Ferrer said: “Non-coding DNA, or junk DNA as it is sometimes known, is the dark matter of the genome. We’re only just beginning to unravel what it does.

"Many people have small DNA variants in such regulatory elements, and these variants affect gene expression in the cells that produce insulin. This knowledge will allow us to understand the detailed mechanisms whereby specific DNA variants predispose to diabetes."

Fellow researcher Mark McCarthy, of Oxford University, UK, said: “This study provides some important clues to the mechanisms which are disturbed in the earliest stages of the development of type 2 diabetes, and may point the way to novel ways of treating and preventing the disease."

Pasquali et al. Pancreatic islet enhancer clusters enriched in type 2 diabetes risk-associated variants. Nature Genetics 12 January 2014. [abstract]

* A new drive has been launched to tackle the growing problem of diabetes in England.

The NHS England plan wants improved prevention, early diagnosis and support for people with diabetes to manage their illness.

The disease is blamed for some 22,000 deaths a year and is responsible for 100 people a week losing a limb.

The Action for Diabetes plan focuses on type 2 diabetes, which is linked to growing rates of obesity and inactivity.

It follows the launch earlier in the week of the Action for Sugar campaign - pushing for reductions of sugar levels in food and drink.

Experts said there was also a challenge to meet the needs of patients with type 1 diabetes.

National clinical director for obesity and diabetes, Professor Jonathan Valabhji, said: "We are seeing huge increases in type 2 diabetes because of the rising rates of obesity, and we clearly need a concerted effort on the prevention, early diagnosis and management of the disease to slow its significant impact not only on individual lives but also on the NHS."

He added: "New thinking about how to provide integrated services in the future is needed in order to give individuals the care and support they require in the most efficient and appropriate care settings, across primary, community, secondary, mental health and social care, and in a safe timescale."

* A fresh call for a hard-hitting campaign against obesity in the UK was made today.

The National Obesity Forum says rates of the problem are increasing so far that some of its most dire projections have proved to be under-estimates.

In 2007 it warned that 50% of the population could be obese by 2050 - but latest estimates suggest the figure could reach 60%, it warns.

The publication of the report today follows last week's launch of Action on Sugar, calling for sugar in food to be reduced in the same way as salt.

The forum calls for GPs to be trained in how to talk to obese patients.

Professor David Haslam, who chairs the forum, said current government policy was not "turning the tide."

He said: "The time has long passed for national soul searching.

"There needs to be concerted action. There is a lot more we can be doing by way of earlier intervention and to encourage members of the public to take sensible steps to help themselves – but this goes hand in hand with government leadership and ensuring responsible food and drink manufacturing and retailing."

The report says: "The fact remains that having a conversation with patients about their weight is not an easy job for doctors.

"Part of the result of this is that being called fat is viewed as an insult and that no one likes to be told that they are overweight, even by a healthcare professional who has the best interests of the patient's health at heart."

Tags: Diabetes | Diet & Food | Genetics | NHS | UK News

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