New Study Reveals Epigenetic Markers for Type 2 Diabetes Complications in Identical Twins 

23rd April 2024 – by Aaruthy Suthahar

A recent collaborative effort among seven international twin cohorts, including TwinsUK, has yielded new epigenetic markers of type 2 diabetes and potentially its complications. The paper, published in eBiomedicine, sheds light on distinct blood markers in identical twins, where one twin was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes while the other remained unaffected. 

Type 2 diabetes is a condition where the body struggles to regulate blood sugar levels effectively. Over time, this can lead to serious health complications like heart disease, kidney problems, and vision impairment. Identical twins, who share the same genetic blueprint, offer a unique opportunity to explore why one twin might develop diabetes and its complications, while the other remains healthy. 

The study, led by a team of researchers at TwinsUK, delved into epigenetic markers—alterations to DNA that regulate gene activity and are influenced by genetic changes, lifestyle factors, and environmental exposures. By examining identical twins discordant for type 2 diabetes across various cohorts, the researchers aimed to pinpoint novel epigenetic changes indicative of diabetes. 

Among the notable findings were the identification of new blood epigenetic markers that distinguish twins with diabetes from their unaffected counterparts. Notably, these newly identified changes were found to be located within genes linked to complications of diabetes, like eye problems and high blood pressure. Additionally, the study also validated previously detected signals associated with diabetes. 

In summary, leveraging the unique genetic makeup of identical twins allowed the research team to uncover promising epigenetic markers of type 2 diabetes, that are also potentially indicative of the development of diabetes complications. This collaborative effort shows the power of the twin study approach in unravelling complex disease mechanisms and offers valuable insights for future research and clinical applications. 

The detailed findings of the study can be accessed in eBiomedicine via the following link HERE.

Can diverse gut bacteria help protect against type 2 diabetes?

24th June 2020 – Paz Garcia

Gut bacteria could be key players when it comes to reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes, according to new research from TwinsUK.

The team, led by Dr Cristina Menni from the Department of Twin Research, identified six molecules produced by gut bacteria that appear to play a role in type 2 diabetes risk.

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body is no longer able to respond appropriately to insulin, which the body needs to process glucose. If untreated, this leads to high levels of glucose in the bloodstream.

Previous research found a link between type 2 diabetes and low gut microbiome diversity, but the cause was unclear. In this study, the team investigated whether molecules – known as metabolites – produced by the gut bacteria could be the reason for this link.

The team studied microbiome and blood glucose data collected from 1,018 TwinsUK participants, and then checked their findings by analysing an additional cohort from the USA.

The researchers found that two metabolites that correlated with higher microbiome diversity have previously been linked to lower rates of type 2 diabetes.

One of the metabolites that correlated with lower microbiome diversity however is thought to have a role in insulin resistance, a key feature of type 2 diabetes.

Dr Cristina Menni explained the implications of the study’s results:

“Our findings help us understand how exactly gut bacteria may help or hinder us when it comes to type 2 diabetes. We know that we can change our gut bacteria – and so the metabolites produced – by altering our diet.

“What’s potentially exciting about our results is that they imply that it may be possible to reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes by changing your diet to change your gut bacteria in order to reduce the harmful metabolites and increase the protective ones.

“Moving forward, clinical studies should investigate the metabolites identified and determine whether modifying these molecules through diet could help reduce or monitor type 2 diabetes.

Menni et al. Serum metabolites reflecting gut microbiome alpha diversity predict type 2 diabetes. Gut Microbes, 2020.

Type 2 diabetes study puts the kidney, spleen and the eyes in the spotlight

10th June 2019 – by Paz Garcia

A new study has identified over 60 differences in molecules in 18 organs of type 2 diabetic mice.

The research found that there are more significant changes in the kidney, spleen and eyes, pointing to a faster deterioration of these organs.

Hands using a lancet to prick a finger. Blood glucose meter in background.
Researchers are working to develop better treatments for people with type 2 diabetes

This study is the most comprehensive understanding we have of metabolic changes in specific organs of this mouse model of type 2 diabetes and establishes a new reference for further research.

This work will therefore help researchers to develop better treatments for people living with type 2 diabetes, and therapies to prevent people ever developing the condition.

The work was led by Dr Marina Mora-Ortiz from the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology, King’s College London.

Why did they do this research?

All types of diabetes affect an estimated 422 million people around the world, with cases increasing every day. The vast majority of cases are due to type 2 diabetes, which is a metabolic condition in which the body struggles to process sugar in the blood, and it can lead to serious complications that affect the eyes, heart, kidneys and limbs.

Although we know type 2 diabetes is a metabolic condition, there hasn’t been a systematic study of the metabolic changes which occur as the condition progresses.

The researchers wanted to develop a better understanding of the metabolic processes involved in the development of the condition, so that we can develop better treatments.

Dr Mora-Ortiz and her colleagues therefore decided to study the changes in metabolism in special model mice commonly used to study type 2 diabetes.

This is the first time that researchers have carried out this type of analysis in such a large number of organs in this model mouse, known as the db/db mouse.

What did they do?

The team studied 18 different parts of the body in six diabetic mice and in six regular mice for comparison.

The researchers used a powerful technique known as NMR spectroscopy to determine the levels of certain metabolites – molecules involved in metabolism – in each of these body parts.

The team found 61 changes in metabolites associated with type 2 diabetes. The kidney, spleen and eye had the most differences in metabolites when compared with mice without diabetes.

What does this mean for type 2 diabetes?

Dr Marina Mora-Ortiz, who led the research, explained:

“This work will help us to understand better which organs are more seriously affected by type 2 diabetes. We know now, for example, that further research should focus in the spleen which is an important organ of the immune system and has been traditionally neglected in diabetes research.”

What’s the next step?

In their paper, the authors say that future studies should consider the impact of diet and the environment on the changes in metabolites associated with type 2 diabetes.

Full citation:

Mora-Ortiz, M., Nuñez Ramos, P., Oregioni, A., Claus, S.P. (2019). “NMR metabolomics identifies over 60 biomarkers associated with Type II Diabetes impairment in db/db mice”. Metabolomics. (DOI: 10.1007/s11306-019-1548-8)

 

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