Almost 100 genes have been identified by scientists in fat cells that could have significant roles in the development of type 2 diabetes and obesity as well as heart disease.
Some of the 93 genes that have now been found in subcutaneous fat, that is fat directly under the skin, could even be targeted to help find a cure, according to the researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in the United States.
The research study looked at the activity of genes in 770 Finnish men whose health histories were precisely recorded which enabled them to explore how gene variations naturally occur in subcutaneous fat.
They found that strands of DNA often clump together inside fat cells in three dimensional structures, and can affect other genes, whether they are near or far away.
‘There are a lot of regions in our genomes that are associated with increased risk for, let’s say, type 2 diabetes. But we don’t always understand what’s happening in these regions,’ said lead author Mete Civelek of the university’s school of medicine.
‘Type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease and obesity are multifactorial and complex diseases. Genetic factors do not work in isolation, they work in a holistic way, so I think that these kinds of studies are key to understanding what’s happening in human populations,’ he explained.
‘We’re saying that it may be the gene that we thought was causing a phenomenon is not. There may actually be another gene at work that is a little bit further away,’ he added.
Unlike many genetics studies, the project looked at how genes’ activity actually manifests in human patients and it is hoped that the results will help doctors and scientists better understand how normal gene variations can affect individuals’ health and risk for disease.
The team of researchers are now examining what they believe is a ‘master switch’ that could regulate activity of several genes involved with the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes risk.
‘Maybe by looking at these other markers we will be able to predict someone’s risk much better, so that, for example, they can modify their diet or lifestyle even before type 2 diabetes develops. Or if type 2 diabetes has already developed. We might be able to target some of these novel genes as a potential cure,’ Civelek pointed out.
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