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Hebrew University researchers have found the first proof of molecular risk
factors for Type 2 diabetes that indicate susceptibility to the
This could provide an “early warning” sign and eventually lead
to new treatment approaches, the researchers said, as well as mapping
susceptibility at an early stage to other diseases as well.
diabetes, which has been diagnosed in 500,000 Israelis, and not yet diagnosed in
an equal number at a preliminary stage called pre-diabetes – generally results
from being overweight and a lack of exercise.
A research team led by Dr.
Asaf Hellman of HU’s Israel Canada Institute of Medical Research has developed a
novel technique for analyzing the disease – contributing epigenetic variations
in patients. Epigenetic variations – which are small molecular marks
superimposed on the DNA structure – have been frequently thought to modify
predisposition, but direct evidence was lacking.
The research team
decided to map variation in DNA methylation – a naturally occurring mechanism
for regulating genes and protect DNA – instead conventionally mapping variation
in DNA sequence. The team conducted a proof-of-concept study among 1,169 type 2
diabetes patients and a healthy control group. The results showed the unique
abilities of this approach by revealing a clear-cut, disease-predisposing DNA
methylation “signature.” This is a first report in the scientific literature of
epigenetic risk factor for this kind of diabetes.
DNA methylation is one
of the regulatory processes spoken of as epigenetic, in which an alteration in
gene expression occurs without a change in the sequence of nucleotides
(molecules that make up DNA). Defects in this process cause several types of
diseases that afflict humans.
The research was presented in a scientific
conference at the Cambridge University Genomic Center and recently published in
the scientific journal Human Molecular Genetics. Hellman’s technique was
developed during his postdoctoral training at Harvard University Medical School.
Later, his research students in Jerusalem, Gidon Tperoff and Dvir Aran, further
developed it into an efficient, genome-wide mapping method.
revealed, for the first time not only a clear-cut epigenetic signature in
diabetes, but telltale methylation signature marks on the DNA of young people
who later developed impaired glucose metabolism, even before signs of clinical
diabetes showed up.
The HU findings seem likely to lead to the
understanding of similar mechanisms in a long list of common human diseases,
including many metabolic, autoimmune and psychiatric disorders.
epigenetic marks are sensitive to a wide range of environmental influences
including diets, chemical exposures and intrauterine environments, as well as to
therapeutic drugs, these findings may open the way for the development of new
prevention and/or intervention epigenetic therapies, the researchers