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Ethnic Diversity Helps Identify More Diabetes-Related Traits

Including multiethnic participants in a large-scale genetic study has identified more genomic loci linked to diabetes

University of Exeter
Published:Jun 01, 2021
|2 min read
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By including multiethnic participants, a large-scale genetic study has identified more regions of the genome linked to type 2 diabetes-related traits than if the research had been conducted in Europeans alone.

The international MAGIC collaboration, made up of more than 400 global academics, conducted a genome-wide association meta-analysis led by the University of Exeter. Now published in Nature Genetics, their findings demonstrate that expanding research into different ancestries yields more and better results, as well as ultimately benefiting global patient care.

Up to now, nearly 87 percent of genomic research of this type has been conducted in Europeans. This means that the way these findings are implemented may not optimally benefit people from non-European ancestries.

The team analyzed data across a wide range of cohorts, encompassing more than 280,000 people without diabetes. Researchers looked at glycemic traits, which are used to diagnose diabetes and monitor sugar and insulin levels in the blood.

The researchers incorporated 30 percent of the overall cohort with individuals of East Asian, Hispanic, African American, South Asian, and sub-Saharan African origin. By doing so, they discovered 24 more loci—or regions of the genome—linked to glycemic traits than if they had conducted the research in Europeans alone.

Professor Inês Barroso, of the University of Exeter, who led the research, said: "Type 2 diabetes is an increasingly huge global health challenge—with most of the biggest increases occurring outside of Europe. While there are a lot of shared genetic factors between different countries and cultures, our research tells us that they do differ in ways that we need to understand. It's critical to ensuring we can deliver a precision diabetes medicine approach that optimizes treatment and care for everyone."

First author Dr. Ji Chen, of the University of Exeter, said: "We discovered 24 additional regions of the genome by including cohorts which were more ethnically diverse than we would have done if we'd restricted our work to Europeans. Beyond the moral arguments for ensuring research is reflective of global populations, our work demonstrates that this approach generates better results."

The team found that though some loci were not detected in all ancestries, they were still useful to capture information about the glycemic trait in that ancestry. Coauthor Cassandra Spracklen, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said: "Our findings matter because we're moving toward using genetic scores to weigh up a person's risk of diabetes. We know that scores developed exclusively in individuals of one ancestry don't work well in people of a different ancestry. This is important as increasingly health care is moving toward a more precise approach. Failing to account for genetic variation according to ancestry will impact our ability to accurately diagnose diabetes."

- This press release was originally published on the University of Exeter website