Living Well with Chronic Conditions

Is Type 2 Diabetes in the Genes?


Could a person's risk for type 2 diabetes be written in their genes?

According to a study recently published in Diabetologia, research has uncovered a new gene, ACSL5, which “regulates how the body recognizes insulin”.

A Possible Culprit

Scientists at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) worked in collaboration with the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania on the study that led to the discovery of ACSL5.

Using gene-editing technology known as CRISPR (or clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), researchers were able to study ACSL5 more closely. Using cells from the colon, scientists were able to learn that this gene plays a role in lipid metabolism – and, more importantly, that developing drugs to act on ACSL5 could increase a type 2 diabetic's sensitivity to insulin.

“Type-2 diabetes is increasingly common, with an impact on millions of people,” Struan Grant, leader of CHOP study, said in an interview. “But it has complex causes, involving multiple genes and environmental influences, and we are still learning the details of its complicated biology.”

Of the new research, Grant said, “Our goal in investigating these biological functions is to develop more effective therapies.”

A Possible Treatment?

Of course, gene research is not a wholly new field for Grant, who in 2006 led the a team that discovered a variation within the gene TCF7L2. This variation, Grant's team determined, raised the risk of type 2 diabetes in a patient. Grant is optimistic that this work will lead to more targeted treatments for type 2 diabetes, saying, “Our task becomes that of converting an association signal to the correct disease-causing gene or genes at each of these locations.”

And in the meantime, Grant cautions that there is still much to learn about ACSL5, reminding us that “[W]e still don't know which specific tissue or tissues that these T2D-related signals operate in to affect patients--whether they act primarily in the gut, in the liver, in adipose tissue or on beta cells in the pancreas.

“As we continue to better understand the biological mechanisms functioning in type 2 diabetes, we expect to find better strategies for treatment.”

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