Scientists have discovered that there is a genetic link between low birth weights in babies and the onset of Type 2 diabetes later in life.
The collaborative effort of scientists from Britain, Finland, the Netherlands and the United States has yielded important research which could change the way diabetes is dealt with in the future.
The team of scientists analyzed the results of 19 medical studies on pregnancy and birth, spanning over 38,000 European participants. The researchers found two genetic variants that were strongly linked to a baby’s birth weight, and one of those variants was also linked to how susceptible a person is to developing Type 2 diabetes.
In an interview with the Scotsman, Jim Wilson, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh said: “Finding two gene variants that decrease birth-weight is the first exciting step to unraveling the well known associations between birth-weight and killer diseases in later life. It is particularly interesting that one of these variants is also a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes.
“These genes will begin to reveal the biology behind how low birth weight increases the risk of adult-onset diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure,” he added.
The second variant linked to diabetes is the gene called ADCY5. According to the researchers’ data, people who inherit two copies of this gene in two specific genetic regions have a 25 percent increased chance of developing diabetes later in adulthood.
Professor Mark McCarthy, lead diabetes researcher at the University of Oxford, found that the genetic variants were somewhat common in Europeans.
“[In] European populations we think that about 10 percent of the population have at least all four birth-weight-lowering variants,” he told ABC news.
However, McCarthy cautioned that the genetics variants alone are not responsible for low birth weights, but environmental factors must still be considered.
“I think these are all factors that go into the mix. These are not genetic effects that will say irrespective of everything else that you will end up with a small baby.”
Dr. Rachel Freathy, a researcher at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, agreed, telling the Press Association, “It is now important for us to establish how much of the association is due to our genes and how much is due to the environment because this will inform how we target efforts to prevent the disease.”
The research is published in the journal Nature Genetics.