Researchers studying the genomes of more than a quarter million people have identified gene variations that apparently affect the risk of developing both type 2 diabetes and heart disease, two of the leading health problems facing the developed world. That raises the possibility that in the future doctors may be able to treat both type 2 diabetes and heart disease with the same drugs.
Diabetes is the 7th-leading cause of death in the United States, while heart disease is the leading cause of death. Over 30 million Americans have diabetes, a number that has more than tripled over the past two decades. The prevalence of diabetes worldwide has nearly doubled since 1980.
Diabetes is a known risk factor for developing heart disease, with those developing type 2 diabetes being twice as likely to die of coronary heart disease as those without diabetes. Why exactly that happens hasn’t been well understood.
In this recent study, scientists analyzed the genomic data of more than 250,000 people of Asian and European descent. Their detailed study of genomes confirmed many genes that were known to be linked to diabetes and heart disease and also found some new ones. More importantly, researchers identified eight loci within those genomes that were found to be linked both to type 2 diabetes and to heart disease.
Seven of those were found to raise the risk of both type 2 diabetes and heart disease, while one raised the risk of type 2 diabetes but lowered the risk of heart disease. Because those areas within the genome were found to be linked, it is assumed that drug treatments that target those gene pathways to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes may also lower the risk of heart disease, and vice versa. Further study will have to bear that out, but this new finding could open up new avenues to combat two debilitating diseases with a single treatment.