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U researcher: Understanding type 2 diabetes risk also may lead to improved heart health

Jennifer Hall, Ph.D.

People with type 2 diabetes are significantly more likely to get heart disease than people who don’t have diabetes. So Jennifer Hall, Ph.D., director of the program in translational cardiovascular genomics at the University of Minnesota, hopes that her research focused on identifying what predisposes a person to type 2 diabetes also may shed light on what factors lead to heart disease.

Hall and her team are using mouse models and human tissue to determine how one genetic mutation, known as TCF7L2, leads to impaired glucose tolerance and decreased insulin secretion and, ultimately, a greater likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.

“Clearly there are differences between mice and humans, but in both humans and mice, there is a relay that comes from our brains that regulates insulin,” a hormone that controls the body’s blood sugar levels, explains Hall. “What we have found is that this genetic mutation of TCF7L2 affects that relay—or the neurons that affect the body’s ability to regulate glucose.”

Hall’s team hasn’t found a direct link between the genetic mutation and heart disease, she says. But she believes that solving this genetic mystery could have heart-healthy implications for people at risk for type 2 diabetes.

“We hope that assisting in identifying mechanisms for type 2 diabetes risk will one day lead to reducing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular complications from the disease,” she says.

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