A Genetic Fuse for Diabetes?

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According to this press release, a team of Australian scientists have discovered a tiny genetic irregularity that boosts the expression of a key gene that might lead to the development of Type 1 Diabetes.  I haven’t seen the actual paper, but any step toward understanding the triggers for Type 1 might end up being a big deal, since we still don’t fully understand what causes people to develop the disease. Here’s the summary of what they discovered:

PhD student Helen McGuire and Dr Cecile King from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research isolated the irregular DNA from mice that spontaneously develop Type 1 diabetes. They also demonstrated that it increases production of very high levels of the immune stimulating molecule interleukin 21 (IL-21). Their findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), now online.

The genetic irregularity occurs in the ‘promoter region’ of the IL-21 gene. In the world of genetics, the promoter region operates like the fuse on a bomb. In the same way as you need to light the fuse to set off a bomb, you need to activate the promoter region to transcribe a gene.

“Our study demonstrates that a small defect in the IL-21 promoter region is associated with the development of Type 1 diabetes in this model,” said project leader Dr King.

Can any Sweet Lifers (maybe Rob?)  put this into perspective for us? Is it a big deal? And if so, is there a way it could affect our search for a cure?

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