Sweet taste of success as researchers uncover gene that causes diabetes

22 July 2007


Researchers have found a new gene that is strongly linked to the development of type 1 or "juvenile" diabetes.

Hakon Hakonarson, from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, used the power of SNPs - single nucleotide polymorphisms to track down the gene in children with the disease. SNPs are genetic markers that are inherited like any other piece of DNA, but because they have all been documented they can be used as convenient flags to highlight the presence of certain genetic sequences.

In this study the researchers recruited 1000 diabetes patients, 1200 parents of patients with diabetes and 1000 healthy children and studied the pattern of SNPs in all of them. This led to them identifying all of the previously discovered genetic triggers of diabetes as well as one new one, a gene called KIAA0350. It's carried in at least 40% of children with diabetes and although the team don't yet know exactly how it triggers the disease, it is strongly expressed by immune cells. This is signficant because type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system turns upon and destroys a patient's own insulin-producing cells in their pancreas. But now the team have identified the gene, which was previously unknown, they can now being to ask important questions about how it provokes the condition, and whether it can be deactivated to protect carriers from subsequently developing the disease.


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