The findings were among the results of the largest study to date on the genetics of diabetes, which compiled genetic information on people from four different ethnic groups, the study authors said.
The study involved more than 48,000 diabetes patients and nearly 140,000 people who did not have the disease. By examining more than 3 million DNA variants, the investigators were able to pinpoint regions that have even a small effect on people's risk for type 2 diabetes.
Two of the DNA regions identified in the study are near genes that show a strong association with high levels of insulin and blood sugar. This sheds light on how basic processes in the body are involved in the risk for type 2 diabetes, the researchers said.
"Although the genetic effects may be small, each signal tells us something new about the biology of the disease," study first author Dr. Anubha Mahajan, of Oxford University in England, said in a university news release.
"These findings may lead us to new ways of thinking about the disease, with the aim ultimately of developing novel therapies to treat and prevent diabetes," Mahajan said. "There's every reason to expect that drugs acting on these biological processes would have a far larger impact on an individual's diabetes than the genetic effects we have discovered."
The research was conducted by an international group of scientists from 20 countries on four continents. The scientists said their study included Hispanic and Asian people -- not just those with European backgrounds. As more genetic information on people from South Asia and Africa becomes available, it will be possible to more closely examine the genes linked to type 2 diabetes, they said.
Mark McCarthy, the study's senior investigator, said, "One of the striking features of these data is how much of the genetic variation that influences diabetes is shared between major ethnic groups."
"This has allowed us to combine data from more than 50 studies from across the globe to discover new genetic regions affecting risk of diabetes," McCarthy, of Oxford's Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, said in the news release.
"The overlap in signals between populations of European, Asian and Hispanic origin argues that the risk regions we have found to date do not explain the clear differences in the patterns of diabetes between those groups," McCarthy said.
Principal investigator Dr. Andrew Morris, also from the Wellcome Trust, said the findings should apply to other common diseases as well.
"By combining genetic data from different ethnic groups, we would also expect to be able to identify new DNA variants influencing risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer, for example, which are shared across ethnic groups," Morris said in the news release. "It has the potential to have a major impact on global public health."
The report was published in the Feb. 9 online edition of the journal Nature Genetics.
The American Diabetes Association has more about type 2 diabetes.
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