Risk of type 2 diabetes by ethnicity
Rates of diabetes differ between ethnic groups and the UK South Asian population is more than twice as likely to have diabetes compared to the general population. The risk of type 2 diabetes can be increased by an unhealthy diet and being physically inactive but we know that genetics also contribute. Diabetes increases someone’s risk of heart disease by 50 per cent.
“As a consultant cardiologist in West London nearly 20 years ago, I noticed highly disproportionate levels of diabetes in my South Asian patients,” said Professor Jaspal Kooner who recently led a study, part-funded by us, into the genetics of South Asians with diabetes.
“This observation prompted me to start researching the causes, including the genetics.”
The Lolipop Study
Professor Kooner launched the Lolipop Study where he and his colleagues followed the health of 30,000 South Asian volunteers from West London over the past decade.
By observing these people over the long-term, the researchers have learnt a lot about the causes of ill health.
We have learnt more about behavioural causes of heart disease and diabetes
Professor Jaspal Kooner
Imperial College London
“Through Lolipop, we have learnt more about behavioural causes of heart disease and diabetes such as the influence of bad diet and lack of exercise but now, thanks to advances in technology and collaborations with researchers from different fields, we are learning about the genetic causes too,” said Professor Kooner.
Looking for clues in the genes
In recent research the scientists did something called a genome wide association study (GWAS).
This is a technique used to identify genes involved in a disease – in this case type 2 diabetes. The scientists compared the genetic codes of tens of thousands of South Asians who developed type 2 diabetes with those who didn’t and searched for minor genetic variations more common in the diabetics.
“GWAS identified six new genes linked to type 2 diabetes but we later discovered these were not unique to South Asians so we’re still looking,” said Professor Kooner. “Previous work has shown that it isn’t environmental factors causing this increased risk and so far the genetic clues have proved hard to find.”
Once the researchers find these elusive genes they hope to start identifying people at risk of diabetes earlier and then take steps to reduce that risk.
Donate to our research
Without your help, this research wouldn't be possible. Please donate to help us continue to fight for every heartbeat.