New genetic discovery gives hope for diabetics with chronic heart disease

by Barbara Hewitt on August 29, 2013

New genetic discovery gives hope for diabetics with chronic heart disease

New genetic discovery gives hope for diabetics with chronic heart disease

The risk of people with type 2 diabetes developing heart disease may be affected by a newly discovered genetic variant, according to new research by scientists in the United States. Type 2 diabetics already face a two to four fold higher risk of heart disease than those without diabetes, but those with the new genetic variant could be further at risk by more than a third.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the Joslin Diabetes Center said that the discovery of the new genetic variant could lead to new interventions aimed at preventing or treating chronic heart disease among patients with type 2 diabetes. ‘This is a very intriguing finding because this variant was not found in previous genome wide association studies in the general population,’ said lead author Lu Qi, assistant professor in the HSPH Department of Nutrition and assistant professor at the Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

‘This means that the genetic risk factors for cardiovascular disease may be different among those with and without diabetes,’ he added. Other co-lead author Alessandro Doria, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH and a researcher at Joslin Diabetes Center, said there is now the possibility of developing treatments that are specifically aimed at breaking the links between diabetes and heart disease.

Quote from DiabetesForum.com : “While it is well known that there is a strong genetic basis to both diabetes and obesity, and that they are linked, Australian researchers say that there are many rare genetic variants involved, which will pose a significant challenge in the quest to develop effective therapies.”

More than 370 million people worldwide have type 2 diabetes and chronic heart disease is the leading cause of death among diabetic patients. Overall heart related mortality has been declining in the United States and other industrialised countries over the past few decades but deaths that are diabetes related are on the rise because of the increasing prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Although prior genome wide studies have found many genetic variants for heart disease in people in the general population, no such study had examined genetic determinants for heart disease specifically in those with type 2 diabetes.

For their analysis, the researchers used data from several long term studies: the Nurses’ Health Study, the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, the Joslin Heart Study, and two Italian studies, the Gargano Heart Study and the Catanzaro Study. They looked at a total of 4,188 diabetic patients, including 1,517 with chronic heart disease and 2,671 without chronic heart as a control group.

Testing more than 2.5 million genetic variants, the researchers found that a variant near the GLUL gene, a gene that encodes a key enzyme regulating to the conversion of glutamic acid to glutamine, was consistently associated with a 36% increased risk of heart disease in people with diabetes. There was no association between this variant and heart disease risk in study participants without diabetes. They also found that the variant may interfere with the expression of a gene that regulates blood levels of amino acids involved in insulin secretion and glucose metabolism, key functions that go awry in those with type 2 diabetes.

Since these amino acids are nutrients affected by food intake, it’s possible that changes in diet may help reduce increased heart disease risk among people with diabetes. The finding may also provide scientists with other targets for therapies to help prevent or treat heart disease in diabetic patients.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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