Scientists have discovered that diabetes and heart disease may be related at the level of genes, proteins and fundamental physiology, a finding that could help devise a way to treat both diseases together.
Type 2 diabetes (T2D) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) appear to have a lot in common. They share risk factors such as obesity and they often occur together, researchers said.
If they also share the same genetic underpinings, then doctors could devise a way to treat them together too.
With that hope in mind, scientists applied multiple layers of analysis to the genomics of more than 15,000 women.
In a new study they report finding eight molecular pathways shared in both diseases as well as several “key driver” genes that appear to orchestrate the gene networks in which these pathways connect and interact.
Scientists started by looking for individual genetic differences in women of three different ethnicities who had either or both of the conditions compared to similar but healthy women – a technique called a Genome Wide Association Study (GWAS).
They also analysed the women’s genetic differences in the context of the complex pathways in which genes and their protein products interact to affect physiology and health.
“Looking at genes one by one is standard,” said Dr Simin Liu, professor of epidemiology and medicine in the Brown University School of Public Health.
“But ultimately, the interactions of biology are fundamentally organised in a pathway and network manner,” said Liu, a co-senior author of the study.
The study drew upon the genetic samples and health records of 8,155 black women, 3,494 Hispanic women and 3,697 white women gathered by the Women’s Health Initiative.
In comparing women with CVD and T2D to healthy women, lead author Kei Hang K Chan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Population Health and Clinical Epidemiology, and the team found key differences in eight pathways regulating cell adhesion (how cells stick within tissues), calcium signalling (how cells communicate), axon guidance (how neurons find their paths to connect with target sites), extracellular matrix (structural support within tissue), and various forms of cardiomyopathy (heart muscle problems).
The study was published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics.