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Understanding diabetes risk also may lead to improved heart health

People with type 2 diabetes, whose bodies are unable to regulate glucose levels, 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 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, this gene is most abundantly expressed in the brain. Previous work has clearly shown that Insulin action in the central nervous system regulates energy homeostasis and glucose metabolism. We have identified that this gene is associated with genes in the brain that affect appetite and glucose metabolism.”

Because people with type 1 diabetes may also be at risk for the mutation, says Hall, this work could also affect individuals who have type 1 diabetes—and their family members.

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

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

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