The Human Genome Project (HGP) is an international scientific research project that took place in 2003. It was a successful achievement and benefit to studying biology, but also took quite a dive, causing heaps of disappointment. Revolutionizing biological science and expanding into a multi-billion dollar industry, it was vanquished when promises of advancing treatments for diseases were unfulfilled. Fortunately, those days are behind us as modern scientists are studying hundreds of thousands of human genomes. In the case of diabetes, much headway has been made in the fields of diabetes type 1 & 2, identifying both risk factors for type 2 diabetes as well as treatments.
With highly ambitious goals set by the likes of Barack Obama, the general public can’t yet bet on the hope of this science improving disease prevention and treatment. Below are some of the reasons why.
Right Direction But Not Quite There Yet
While it would be fantastic if diseases could be swept away and people could live facing other struggles that life brings about without having to fight off illnesses and ailments, such is sadly not the case. The goals to help improve science and medicine are admirable, especially concerning genetics and genomic discoveries. Dishearteningly, the timeline before this can happen appears to be a long one; there will be significant challenges and road bumps ahead of us.
Nature published a study earlier this month concerning Type 2 diabetes treatment. The study shows that the genetics and other risk factors for type 2 diabetes are, without a doubt, a tornado of chaos — and it begs the point researchers won’t be able to fulfill any promise concerning genetic medicine in the near future.
How Do These Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes Affect Prevention and Treatment?
For starters, Type 2 diabetes is one of the major diseases that biomedical scientists are attempting to overcome through genomics — per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it makes up 10 percent of all Americans that face the disease. Aside from how many it is affecting, it costs an estimated $176 billion in medical costs per year.
If doctors could understand the genetics of diabetes, it might give better leverage to battle the disease in several ways. This includes understanding risk factors for type 2 diabetes, type 2 diabetes symptoms and type 2 diabetes treatments. The three ways to improve a potential defense is:
- Being able to identify people with genetic risk factors for type 2 diabetes, focusing any efforts towards prevention on them.
- Recognizing how to specifically treat the different molecular forms of diabetes.
- Understanding the diseases’ molecular characteristics, allowing us to better understand and create treatments that can directly target those molecules.
If these three aspects were simple to achieve, diabetes would run very quickly in the other direction. Presently, the work scientists have put into researching and conducting these large genetic-focused studies has provided only discouraging results. Known mutations make up only 10 percent of the approximated genetic participation to diabetes. Even after a decade, it remains a mystery as to what the genetic basis of diabetes is. This also makes it difficult to completely understand Type 2 diabetes, both regarding its prevention and treatment. Doctors do understand type 2 diabetes symptoms, but it is still unknown how to prevent it permanently.
The Deeper DNA Analysis
Performed by scientists of two international research consortia, this study’s purpose is to find missing mutations in the disease. Instead of scanning for mutations, researchers decided to dive in and survey the genomes of subjects in more detailed manners.
Genetics affect every case of diabetes in different ways. Though diabetes is a common disease, its genetic component is like a fingerprint: intricate and different in its own way. As such, each person’s genetic risk factors for type 2 diabetes could potentially be a result of different, rare mutations. Assuming this is true, this new study should have expected to see a majority of these potential rare mutations. However, this was not the case; going over the DNA of 100,000+ diabetics and volunteers, they only found re-discovery in the same set of common mutations that they had already found in the past.
Let’s say this was true; this new study should have expected to see a majority of these potential rare mutations. However, this was not the case; going over the DNA of 100,000+ diabetics and volunteers, they only found re-discovery in the same set of common mutations that they had already found in the past.
What Does This Mean for Diabetics?
Simply but sadly put, it’s going to be extremely difficult to find genetic risk factors for type 2 diabetes. If rare mutations were a main genetic driver of the disease, then this process of understanding the genetics of diabetes could be much simpler — because if doctors could know what mutations to look for, it would make for much easier genetic testing.
This latest study suggests that the genetic basis of diabetes involves effects from countless mutations, making up only a small amount of the disease; this proves that diabetes is reaching its reputation as a “geneticist’s nightmare.”
As technology advances, more and more studies become feasible. With billions in government funds supporting the study of diabetes, only hope and effort can seemingly keep these studies going.
While facing difficult genetic activity and results pertaining to diabetes, odds are many of the studies will have benefits in the later future, especially for Type 2 diabetes prevention and treatment.
What Options Are Available Now?
Thankfully, after years of studies, doctors have come to better understand how to prevent diabetes through lifestyle changes. As with many diseases, the available prevention for Type 2 diabetes is fairly straightforward. You should reduce portion sizes, exercise more throughout the day, keep your body moving, eat more fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water, and get sufficient hours of quality sleep.
Avoid being overweight, indulging on sweets, and be sure to monitor your blood pressure readings, glucose levels, cholesterol, and avoid smoking or excessive amounts of alcohol. Another wise preventative precaution is to understand your family’s background — understand who has received a diabetes diagnosis from their doctor and what type they have battled or are battling against. Another thing is to consider your age, gender, and race. There are some things your genetic code influences that your practitioner will be unable to change, so be sure to pay attention and take whatever precautionary steps you need to prevent a potential diagnosis of diabetes.
In the meantime, there are very exciting advances in genetic and biological studies, but patients can’t live each day expecting short-term results in battling the disease. So, keep that in mind as you manage your weight, diet, and overall health. There is now more value in effective care, which patients and practitioners should utilize in the most effective ways possible.