Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and McGill University in Montreal have discovered a gene they believe is the culprit in a person developing type 1 diabetes.
The discovery of the gene called KIAA0350 in the body's immune cells could herald a breakthrough in the treatment for type 1 diabetics and reduce the number of children that are diagnosed with the disease.
By using innovative high-density DNA microchip technology, which can test 550,000 genes in a single analysis, the researchers scanned the genomes of more than 6000 people, half of whom had type 1 diabetes.
The search reaffirmed the role played by 4 genes in the development of risk factors for the disease, but also revealed the new gene.
The researchers say there are approximately 15 genes involved in insulin-dependent diabetes and they hope to ultimately identify all of them.
According to Dr. Hakon Hakonarson, director of the Center for Applied Genomics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who led the study, the function of the gene is basically unknown but it appears there are two versions of it.
One version puts people at a 50% increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes, while the other seems to protect people from developing it.
The causes of type 1 diabetes remain unknown but it is believed approximately 50% of cases are genetic and 50% environmental.
It is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself, killing cells of the pancreas that the body needs to regulate blood sugar or glucose.
There is no cure for the disease, and it is usually managed through insulin injections.
Dr. Hakonarson says the identification of the genes will help advance research on both the prevention and treatment of diabetes as more effective tests for newborns prone to developing type 1 diabetes will be developed along with specific drugs to precisely target the effects of the defective gene.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the patient’s immune system destroys its own insulin-producing pancreatic cells, which it mistakenly identifies as foreign bodies.
The study is published in the journal Nature.