Hong Kong and Shanghai researchers have identified a genetic marker for diabetes in the Chinese population. The discovery is expected to lead to improvements in the treatment and prevention of the disease.
The study, conducted by scientists from the Chinese University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, found the marker in 80 per cent of the Chinese population. Those with the marker had an 18 per cent higher risk of getting diabetes. They also tended to develop the disease at a younger age.
The research involved studying the genome of more than 10,000 Chinese diabetes patients in Hong Kong and Shanghai over the past five years.
"Healthy people who carry the marker have an increased risk of diabetes. Their insulin-secreting cells do not function as well [as others without the marker]," said Professor Ronald Ma Ching-wan from the Chinese University's endocrinology and diabetes division.
The discovery is expected to help in the development of drugs targeting the disease, and the team is now working on genetic tests to identify those at risk.
"When a person is found with this marker, we may encourage him to change his lifestyle or to consider early medication to control the risk of getting the disease," said Professor Juliana Chan Chung-ngor, director of the Institute of Diabetes and Obesity.
She said that about 70 diabetes-related genetic markers have been identified in people of European descent since 2007, but only three or four have been found in the Chinese population as such studies targeting Asians started only a few years ago.
Chan said the marker - which affects the PAX4 gene on chromosome 7 - is also found in East Asian and European populations, but the relationship was not as obvious as it was in Chinese people.
Ma said that whether carriers would eventually develop diabetes also depended on other factors such as lifestyle.
One in 10 Hong Kong people suffers from diabetes, and there has been a trend in recent years of people developing the disease at a younger age.