University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston researcher Jennifer E. Below, PhD, presented her work concerning interrelations between type 2 diabetes and obesity, leading to new insights and new approaches to studying the genetics of these diseases. Dr. Below presented the work, “Genome Wide Association and Exome Sequence Data Analysis for More Than 100 Traits in Mexican Americans,” at the American Society of Human Genetics 2014 Annual Meeting in San Diego, held October 18-22.
“Rates of obesity and diabetes have been increasing at an alarming pace in recent decades,” said Dr. Below. “While we know that the genes present in Starr County haven’t changed over that period, genetics still presents the best opportunity to study what’s happening. By breaking these conditions down into detailed traits and genetic sequence data, we could inform potential treatments.”
As a result of Dr. Below’s research, some new drug treatments can be developed that directly target dysfunctional metabolic pathways, which are a result of altered encoding genes.
“Findings such as this highlight the importance of capturing the array of effects of genes, rather than treating each analysis as independent,” stated Dr. Below in a news release from the Society. “Traits don’t exist in silos; they are richly connected and interacting, and we benefit by acknowledging this in our genetic analyses,” said Dr. Below.
Dr. Below was motivated to conduct her studies by the increasing prevalence of type 2 diabetes and obesity in Starr County Texas. She and the rest of the team at UTHealth and collaborating universities conducted phenotypic measurements of over 1,400 Mexican Americans. The team hopes to conduct future analyses with families in order to identify rare genetic variants that could otherwise be missed in the general population. “The community has been extremely supportive of our research, which will give us the ability to follow up with families to study the health effects of these rare, large-effect genetic mutations across time and generations,” said Dr. Below.
Overall, the team has thus far studied more than 1,400 residents of Starr County, which has tended to be 30 years ahead of the trend towards obesity and type 2 diabetes. Their findings and techniques may one day solve the mysteries of retinal cardiomyopathy and disorders with a pattern of inheritance.