Gene breakthrough in diabetes study

Scientists have identified a gene which plays a role in how a commonly used diabetes drug works - creating a new area for drug development in the future.
Metformin is a drug taken by millions of people with diabetes across the globe and has been in use for more than 50 years.
It has been shown to protect against heart disease and eye and kidney disease in people with Type 2 diabetes and has also been shown to have benefits against cancer. But scientists have not known exactly how metformin works.
New research carried out at the University of Dundee, Oxford University and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute as part of the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium shed light on how the body works with and makes use of metformin.
Dr Ewan Pearson, Professor Colin Palmer and colleagues based in the Biomedical Research Institute at the University of Dundee used data from a clinical information system of patients with diabetes linked to donated blood samples from 20,000 people in the Tayside area of Scotland in the research.
They were able to determine how well metformin worked in 2,800 people and identified an area of chromosome 11, which includes a gene called ATM (Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated), that altered how well people responded to metformin.
ATM is a gene that is known to be involved in the DNA damage response system of cells, a mechanism that if faulty can lead to the development of cancer, Dr Pearson said.
"We were expecting to find genes involved in blood sugar regulation so the finding that ATM is involved in metformin response was totally unexpected. Although ATM has been widely studied by cancer scientists, no one previously thought it had a role in how this commonly used diabetes drug worked."
Prof Palmer said: "This is an important development in defining how individuals may respond differently to diabetes drugs, but further work is required before we have enough information to be able to reliably use genetic testing in the clinic to guide treatment of common forms of Type 2 diabetes."
The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and Diabetes UK and is published in the journal Nature Genetics. Diabetes UK has now awarded Dr Pearson further funding to continue his research using new genetic techniques on 8,000 people with Type 2 diabetes.


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