Researchers at Wake Forest University have discovered a gene that could cause up to 20 percent of Type II diabetes.
The discovery of the gene PTPN1 could lead to earlier treatment and new therapies, which already are being tested.
“If we could identify those who are at highest risk, then medical care and preventive care could be focused on those people, and we could either delay or prevent onset,” said Donald W. Bowden, a biochemistry and internal medicine professor at Wake Forest and an author of the study, published in the November issue of the journal Diabetes.
Type II diabetes affects 8.2 million Americans, and is the most prevalent form of a metabolic disorder involving insulin. The recently discovered gene plays a role in the regulation of sensitivity to insulin. Scientists have long known that the disease often runs in families, and other genetic links have been found that involve the metabolism of fats and sugars, as well as insulin production.
The Wake Forest work focuses on the body’s ability to absorb insulin. Many diabetics produce plenty of insulin, but something keeps cells from recognizing it. As a result, sugar builds up in the bloodstream, leading to nerve damage, blindness, organ failures and sometimes death.
The Wake Forest researchers report that the blunting action stems from the PTPN1 gene, which makes a protein that blocks insulin absorption.
In perhaps one-fourth of diabetics, the gene stimulates too much production of the protein.