Is Type 2 Diabetes genetically inherited?
The popular perception of Type 2 Diabetes is that it is a lifestyle disease, brought on by factors such as obesity, smoking or a lack of exercise. And, as we have highlighted in other articles, these are certainly contributory factors. But are they the only factors or could there also be a genetic link?
Well, although scientists had long believed there may be a genetic reason why some people developed diabetes and others didn’t, it took until the 1980s for the advancement in gene technology to start identifying what those genetic links might be. From those initial findings, as time has gone on more and more gene variants have been discovered.
One paper from 2013  identified a range of genes, all of which potentially impact on susceptibility to diabetes. These include genes which affect the way in which enzymes degrade proteins, which regulate insulin production, which affect how glucose is transported and metabolised, and which break down fats. All of these potentially have an impact on our bodies regulatory mechanisms and therefore could contribute to the development of diabetes.
As our understanding of how our genes interact with each other and with our environment grows no doubt further genetic mixes will come to light which may either raise or lower the chance of developing diabetes.
For example, one Swedish study  published in 2021 looked at why, within a set of identical twins, one individual may develop diabetes whereas the other one may remain diabetes free.
The researchers found that although the twins had identical genetic backgrounds, a gene which was responsible for producing a version of MicroRNA which regulates the production of proteins in cells was less active in the twin with Type 2 Diabetes. Follow up research is to be undertaken to better understand these findings.
Research on twins is regularly conducted in order to better understand the play-off between genetic and environmental factors. It has to be said that if one identical twin has diabetes, it increases the risk of the second twin developing the condition by 90%. In non-identical twins this level of risk falls to 10%.
Looking at inherited risk, if one parent has diabetes the risk of a child developing it is increased by 15% or by 75% if both parents have diabetes.
Understanding the genetic links to diabetes could help scientists to develop gene-based therapies. In the meantime, being aware of genetic risk could help individuals to make lifestyle changes and to undertake regular diabetic checks in order to lessen the chance of pre-diabetes developing into something which could have a significant impact on health and lifestyle.
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