[ASC-media] Media release: twins target cause of diabetes

JCA Media jcamedia at starclass.com.au
Mon Nov 28 21:48:19 EST 2005

Sir Mark Oliphant Conferences 2005: Epigenetic Regulation of Development & Disease



A study of hundreds of identical twins is throwing new light on the causes of type 1 diabetes, a major scourge of modern society that affects almost a million Australians.

Dr. Vardhman Rakyan, who works at the UK's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, will report on progress in identifying diabetes risk in individuals at the Sir Mark Oliphant Conference on Epigenetic Regulation being held in Canberra this week.

"We know that genetics can make people more susceptible to developing diabetes - but this does not explain all cases", says Dr Rakyan. "We want to know what causes this unexplained susceptibility to contracting diabetes."

To investigate these causes Dr. Rakyan and his colleagues will be studying over 100 sets of identical twins in which only one twin contracted diabetes. 

"By studying twins we can see the subtle differences that have caused the development of diabetes in one twin rather then the other," says Dr Rakyan. "We also know that these differences are caused by something more then just genes and the environment."

As the twins are genetically identical, researchers can compare subtle differences in the chemicals attached to their DNA. These chemicals - methyl groups which are organic hydrocarbons - attach to genes and prevent them from performing their normal function. Different patterns of methylation may cause identical genes to perform totally different functions.

In identical twins, this process - commonly known as gene silencing - is helping to identify specific areas of affected DNA that may be responsible for the onset of diabetes. 

Dr. Rakyan hopes to identify areas of DNA that are commonly silenced in patients with diabetes, and then perform similar tests in the wider population.

The goal of the research is to identify specific genes that, when silenced, can influence the onset of type 1 diabetes, a disease which now afflicts more than 30 million people worldwide. 

This knowledge may hold the key not only to early diagnosis, but also to preventing a rise in these figures by better managing the diet, lifestyle and medical treatment of at-risk individuals.

"In future we hope to be able to scan an individual's epigenetic makeup and identify the risk of them developing diabetes," says Dr. Rakyan.

Dr. Rakyan sees great potential for similar epigenetic studies to identify the causes of other widespread and damaging diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. The field of epigenetics is already making important discoveries about the actions of cancer and autoimmune diseases.

These findings will be discussed at the Sir Mark Oliphant Conference on Epigenetic Regulation of Development & Disease, at the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra, Australia from November 29-December 2, 2005.

Media are invited to attend and interview participants.

More information:
Dr Vardhman Rakyan: Mob +44-07939343204 or email: vr2 at sanger.ac.uk
Alex Pelvin, CSIRO, ph 02 6246 5485 or 0409 937 124
Dr Jean Finnegan, CSIRO via 0422 208 068
Prof. Julian Cribb, 0418 639 245

Web: http://www.pi.csiro.au/markoliphant-conf/

Date: November 29, 2005

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