Science & Research

Diabetes, heart disease share genetic origins

New research implicates shared genes and pathways for the two diseases

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2014

University researchers located genes linked to both diabetes and heart disease in a recent study that analyzed data from more than 15,000 women.

Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease may share the same genetic origin, according to a recent study that integrated data collected from over 15,000 women and was conducted by University researchers.

Researchers examined the genomes — or entire set of genes — of  the white, black and Hispanic women included in the study.

“The findings are quite early,” said Kei Hang Chan, lead author of the study and postdoctoral research associate. But finding a connection between these two diseases can lead doctors to treating these diseases simultaneously, and in doing so, help many people.

The research, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics, “improves mechanistic understanding of the potential common causes of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” wrote Eric Loucks, an assistant professor of epidemiology who was not involved with the research, in an email to The Herald.

When conducting the genomic research, the scientists initially looked for a number of different genes that were present in women with either cardiovascular disease or diabetes, but not in healthy women, Chan said.

“We did not start off with a hypothesis,” she said, adding that the researchers were just looking for genetic differences.

After locating common genes, the team then conducted pathway tests to further understand how the genes interact with one another, Chan said.

The research uncovered eight pathways that were common across ethnicities, Chan said, but a few additional pathways were ethnicity-specific. The common pathways regulate important bodily functions including cell-to-cell communication and structural support for tissue, according to the study.

The researchers next analyzed the genes and their pathways to locate which genes are actually related to the diseases, Chan said.

The study “provides crucial knowledge for identifying biomarkers and pharmaceutical targets for drug discovery,” said Xi Luo, an assistant professor of biostatistics who was not involved in the study.

“We are excited about the … genes we identified,” Chan said, as these genes allowed researchers to conclude that there might be a connection between the two diseases.

It has long been recognized that Type 2 diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, Loucks wrote, so this connection is not surprising.

“Uncontrolled diabetes causes damage to the body’s blood vessels, making them more prone to damage from atherosclerosis and hypertension,” he wrote.

Both atherosclerosis —the hardening of arteries — and hypertension, known as high blood pressure, lead to cardiovascular disease.

“People with diabetes develop atherosclerosis at a younger age and more severely than people without diabetes,” he wrote.

Though they identified initial genes and pathways, the researchers plan to do more comprehensive assessments in the future, Chan said. “We need to further look into what develops the diseases.”