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Fingering A Genetic Culprit In Diabetes


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FINGERING A GENETIC CULPRIT IN DIABETES

The DNA sleuths have collared yet another important gene. This one identifies a mild but prevalent form of diabetes known as Type 2, which afflicts more than 11 million Americans. Type 2 diabetes is commonly controlled with drugs or diet rather than with insulin therapy. While researchers have known for years that some versions of the disease are inherited, the finding fingers the exact genetic cause.

Scientists at the University of Chicago and two French institutes studied families with the disease to locate the common segment of faulty DNA. The gene's identity, reported in the Apr. 23 issue of the journal Nature, was a minor surprise: Many scientists expected to find the flaw in insulin receptors, proteins that switch on a cell's sugar-breakdown mechanism in response to insulin. Instead, the culprit in up to a third of hereditary cases is a faulty enzyme that normally catalyzes the first step in the sugar-breakdown process. In addition, preliminary results show that the same enzyme might be to blame for noninherited, later-onset Type 2 diabetes.

Researchers are now racing to identify two other genes that may also cause the disease. Meanwhile, the current finding should lead to better treatments. "I suspect the drug companies will jump all over this one," says the University of Chicago's Graeme I. Bell, who led the gene-sleuthing team.EDITED BY FLEUR TEMPLETON


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