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Type 2 diabetes gene predisposes children to obesity, study finds


PHILADELPHIA A gene that predicts Type 2 diabetes in adults also predicts obesity in children, according to a new study published online Nov. 23 in the journal Diabetes.

Researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine said the finding may present an avenue for developing drugs to fight Type 2 diabetes, rates of which have risen dramatically in children in the last few years.

“It has been a bit of a mystery to scientists how or even if these adult diabetes genes function during childhood,” study leader and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia researcher Struan Grant said. “This finding suggests that there may be genetic activity during childhood that lays the foundation for the later development of Type 2 diabetes.”

The researchers studied a cohort of 7,200 white children ages 2 to 18 years, investigating 20 gene variants known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, which previous research has indicated are associated with Type 2 diabetes. The researchers divided the cohort randomly in half, allowing them to follow their discovery study with a replication study.

They found that the gene HHEX-IDE does not affect birth weight or predispose a child to obesity in adulthood, but it does make obesity more likely in childhood. Still, Grant cautioned that HHEX-IDE accounts for only a small proportion of the genetic contribution to Type 2 diabetes risk, and many other gene variants remain to be discovered.

“Previously, we thought that this gene affects insulin production during adulthood, but we now see that it may play an early role in influencing insulin resistance through its impact on body size during childhood,” Grant said. “One implication is that if we can develop medicines to target specific biological pathways in childhood, we may be able to prevent diabetes from developing later in life.”

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