Worldwide, 400 million people live with diabetes, with rapid increases projected. Patients with diabetes mostly fall into one of two categories, type 1 diabetics, triggered by autoimmunity at a young age, and type 2 diabetics, caused by metabolic dysfunction of the liver. Despite being labeled a “lifestyle disease,” diabetes has a strong genetic basis. New research under the direction of Adrian Liston (VIB/KU Leuven) has discovered that a common genetic defect in beta cells may underlie both forms of diabetes. This research was published in the international scientific journal Nature Genetics.

Adrian Liston (VIB/University of Leuven): “Our research finds that genetics is critical for the survival of beta cells in the pancreas — the cells that make insulin. Thanks to our genetic make-up, some of us have beta cells that are tough and robust, while others have beta cells that are fragile and can’t handle stress. It is these people who develop diabetes, either type 1 or type 2, while others with tougher beta cells will remain healthy even in if they suffer from autoimmunity or metabolic dysfunction of the liver.”

Different pathways to diabetes development

Diabetes is a hidden killer. One out of every 11 adults is suffering from the disease, yet half of them have not even been diagnosed. Diabetes is caused by the inability of the body to lower blood glucose, a process normally driven by insulin. In patients with type 1 diabetes (T1D), this is caused by the immune system killing off the beta cells that…

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