Researchers say they are “excited” about the discovery of a new genetic variant that is responsible for almost 7% of cases of diabetes in Greenland.

The team of scientists have identified a new variant of the gene HNF1A, which causes Maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY), a subcategory of monogenic diabetes.

Monogenic diabetes are types of diabetes caused by single genetic variations.

People with MODY, which usually develops in young adulthood, are often wrongly diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, so the medication they are given does not work.

Researchers hope this latest discovery will pave the way for better treatment in Greenland and lead to improved screening, as monogenic diabetes is inherited.

Professor Torben Hansen, from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen, led the research alongside Professor Anders Albrechtsen and Professor Ida Moltke.

He said: “We were excited to make this discovery of a new genetic variant that is responsible for close to seven percent all cases of diabetes in Greenland. Discoveries like these, which was made possible thanks to a generous collaboration with the Greenlandic people, help us better understand the complexity of diabetes.”

Professor Marit Eika Jørgensen, from the Steno Diabetes Center Greenland, helped to co-ordinate the research. He said: “This discovery is good news for the treatment of diabetes in Greenland, because most people with MODY can be treated with a simple and cheap tablet treatment and avoid insulin and other more complex forms of diabetes treatment.

“Therefore, we now offer genetic testing for MODY to all our patients with diabetes, and when we find people with HNF1A-MODY, we systematically offer that family members are also tested.”

Monogenic diabetes is far more common in Greenland compared to Western countries, where monogenic diabetes only makes up around 1 in 50 cases of diabetes.

One of the co-first author, PhD student Anne Cathrine Baun Thuesen, said: “This discovery clearly demonstrates how common diseases are much more complex than we previously thought.

“Thanks to the breakthroughs in genetic research and data science capabilities, many people around the world may benefit from new personalised medicine approaches that take ancestral, genetic, and environmental backgrounds into account.”

The full study has been published in The Lancet Regional Health – Europe.

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