Scientists who carried out the largest genome-wide study on type 2 diabetes to date have identified new genetic markers for the condition, helping to generate risk scores for diabetes complications.

The findings of the study, which involved a team of international researchers, help to further the understanding of genetic variants and how type 2 diabetes develops.

Knowing more about the disease mechanisms can help to predict a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, allowing for early intervention.

In this latest study, scientists identified eight distinct mechanistic collections of genetic variants linked to type 2 diabetes.

In addition, the team found links between individual clusters and diabetes complications.

The examined data from a diverse group made up of more than 2.5 million people, 428,452 of whom have type 2 diabetes.

Co-senior author Cassandra Spracklen, assistant professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at University of Massachusetts Amherst, said: “We tried to figure out some of the mechanisms for how these genetic variants are working – and we did.

“We found eight clusters of type 2 diabetes-associated variants that have also been associated with other diabetes risk factors – such as obesity and liver-lipid metabolism – suggesting the mechanisms for how the variants may be acting to cause diabetes.

“Then we asked if these clusters were also associated with type 2 diabetes complications? And we found that several of them to also associated with vascular complications, such as coronary artery disease and end-stage diabetic nephropathy.”

For many of the millions of people with type 2 diabetes, treatment is still a case of trial and error, with options for tailored, precision medicine still very limited.

Furthering the understanding of how the disease develops and progresses can highlight an individual’s risk of developing the condition.

Assistant professor Spracklen said: “We’re trying to understand how diabetes develops. And we’re trying to better understand how these genetic variants are actually working within a biological tissue or at the cellular level, which can ultimately lead to new drug targets and treatments.”

The authors of the research conclude: “Our findings…may offer a route to optimise global access to genetically informed diabetes care.”

Read the study in the journal, Nature.

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