How are Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease genetically linked?

Many Type 2 diabetics also suffer cardiovascular problems. Diabetes is a major risk factor in the development of heart disease, and studies have shown that patients with Type 2 Diabetes are twice as likely to die from heart disease compared to people without it.

Although it is widely known that both diseases are typically associated with a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet, the genetic basis that could underlie the connection has largely remained unclear.

To pinpoint the genetic link between the two diseases, an international team of scientists performed a meta-analysis of data collected through 8 previous studies in Type 2 Diabetes and coronary heart disease. This amounted to analyses that involved over 265,000 participants from South Asia, East Asia, and European descent.

In this meta-study, published in Nature Genetics, the researchers first identified 16 new genetic loci that are associated with Type 2 Diabetes. Their analysis then identified many genetic loci that are shared between Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease. For 7 of these loci, the variant (“allele”) that increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes also increased the risk for heart disease.

Interestingly though, in one of the loci, the Type 2 Diabetes risk variant was associated with reduction in LDL-C (“bad cholesterol”) and decreased risk in heart disease. In their paper, the researchers noted that this may explain why a reduction in LDL-C by statins has been shown to lead to higher incidence of Type 2 Diabetes.

This highlights the importance of this study- through a better understanding of these dual-risk genetic loci, future therapy for prevention of Type 2 Diabetes could be developed such that it doesn’t further increase the risk for heart disease. Better yet, treatments that address both Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease could be developed – killing two birds with one stone.


Link to the original study:

About Rina Soetanto

Rina Soetanto is currently doing her PhD in molecular biology. She also has an extensive background in pharmacology and pre-clinical cancer research, as well as an undergraduate science degree from the Australian National University with a double major in neuroscience and immunology.

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