A breakthrough genetic discovery could help pave the way for future treatment of diabetic kidney disease (DKD), researchers have said.

A huge study involving more than 19,000 people has identified 16 regions of the human genome that they believe are associated with DKD, otherwise known as diabetic nephropathy.

The research team from University College Dublin’s (UCD) Diabetes Complications Research Centre wanted to further understand why some people with type 1 diabetes appear to be more susceptible to developing the kidney condition.

Lead researcher Professor Catherine Godson, UCD School of Medicine and Fellow, UCD Conway Institute said: “Despite our best efforts, the rates of diabetes and associated vascular complications remain unacceptably high.

“There is an urgent need to predict those individuals with diabetes who are at risk of developing complications, such as DKD and to develop effective drugs to treat the disease in susceptible people.”

The researchers categorised participants depending on which indicators of DKD they were showing. The team used genome-wide association study (GWAS) analyses to identify the gene variants that may predispose people to greater risk of DKD.

One of the gene variants the research team discovered was COL4A3 which they think is strongly associated with protecting the body from DKD. Further work is now being carried out on the gene variant to see how its properties might be useful for preventative treatment.

Prof Godson added, “These 16 new gene regions linked to DKD provide us with insights as to how this disease develops as well as identifying targets to help prevent and treat diabetic kidney disease. It is interesting to see an association with inflammation and chronic kidney disease associated with diabetes.”

On average it is thought about 40 per cent of people with diabetes develop kidney disease. However, it is possible to prevent or delay the condition by maintaining good blood sugar level control and blood pressure levels.

The findings have been published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

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