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Genomics Key to NIDDK's Diabetes Plans

By a GenomeWeb Staff Reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health's new strategic roadmap for combating diabetes in the US places a high priority on using knowledge about the interaction of genetics and environment to better understand how the disease works.

The multi-pronged plan focuses on 10 areas of diabetes research that hold the most promise for preventing and curing type 1 and 2 diabetes — such as studying autoimmune mechanisms, developing pancreas replacement tools, and researching the biology of beta cells — but it places genetics and environment research at the top of its list of needs.

Both types of diabetes have strong genetic bases, and identifying how those factors influence disease susceptibility is a key part of NIH's strategy.

"By setting priorities and identifying the most compelling research opportunities, the strategic plan will guide NIH, other federal agencies, and the investigative community in efforts to improve diabetes treatments and identify ways to keep more people healthy," National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Director Griffin Rodgers said in a statement.

The core aim of diabetes-related genetics research should be to conduct research that identifies causes of diabetes and obesity in order to develop better strategies for predicting and treating the disease.

The plan, developed by NIDDK's Diabetes Mellitus Interagency Coordinating Committee, identifies several areas in genetics research that will require more research, including studies of genes and pathways that contribute to diabetes risk; research that uses next-generation DNA sequencing to sequence tens of thousands of individuals to detect rare variants involved in the disease; studies of gene-environment interactions that look into how viral infections, nutrition, or gut microbes and other factors could trigger the disease; efforts to understand how environmental exposures may interact with the genome to alter gene expression; conducting translational research to inform design of clinical trials for prevention or early intervention; and developing pharmacogenomics technologies based on gene variants that could enable personalized approaches to treating diabetes.

DNA sequencing and genotyping advances in recent years and genome-wide association studies have enabled researchers to identify nearly 50 regions in the human genome that are home to risk variants for type1 and type 2 diabetes and for obesity, but much more research in these areas needs to be done, according to the report.

The NIDDK committee stated that it wants to find out what DNA, RNA, and protein sequencing technologies will be needed to identify and study diabetes candidate genes and to enable better correlation of genotypes with phenotypes.

The committee also urged that partnerships should be developed between NIH and other government agencies, the pharmaceutical industry, health insurers, and private foundations that are interested in diabetes research.

The committee also advised that biobanks of annotated human tissue should be established that relate diabetes and obesity etiology and diabetic complications, which would "accelerate nearly all aspects of diabetes and obesity research."