March 1997 issue of Nature Genetics
The study of the insulin gene by a team of McGill researchers may yield the mechanisms that protect from and predispose us to juvenile diabetes.
A discovery by a McGill University research team is of potential importance for the prevention of diabetes
A McGill team of researchers is responsible for a major advancement in the prevention of diabetes through the successful identification of the mechanisms by which the insulin gene protects from or predisposes to diabetes. The study, funded in large part by the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, is described in the March issue of Nature Genetics.
According to Dr Constantin Polychronakos, Associate Professor in the McGill Department of Pediatrics at the Montreal Childrens Hospital, his team of researchers has located the insulin gene or allele that teaches the body not to attack the cells that produces insulin. "We have found that the longer allele makes two to three times the amount of insulin than any other insulin gene in the thymus gland," said Dr Polychronakos.
Researchers have known that genetic disposition to diabetes depends on many genes, including the insulin gene. DNA sequences that controls the insulin gene comes in two versions or alleles, long and short. People who inherit the long allele from at least one of their parents are four times less likely to get diabetes, but the reason for this is unknown.
"We now know that there are higher levels of insulin in the thymus, as a result of the longer insulin allele. This causes the T-lymphocytes, the "warriors " of the immune system, to familiarize themselves better with insulin and learn not to attack the cells that produce it," added Dr Polychronakos. "This information can now be used to further studies in understanding how the body develops a tolerance to insulin."
In addition to this diabetes gene research, Dr. Polychronakos is part of JDFs Diabetes Interdisciplinary Research Program (DIRP) at McGill University. The Program, headed by Keith Drummond, MD and focuses on diabetes complications, is one of twenty-six DIRPs funded through JDFs $200 million international initiative, "The Only Remedy Is A Cure Campaign," is the most ambitious enterprise in diabetes history. It has pioneered a partnership between the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases and JDFI, teaming world-class diabetes researchers with top scientists in other disciplines, such as molecular biology, genetics, immunology, transplantation, and cell biology. Working in established medical centres and research institutions, these scientists apply their specialized knowledge to the study of prevention, better treatment, and a cure for diabetes and its complications.
The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International was founded in 1970 by parents of children with diabetes who were convinced that diabetes and its complications could be cured through research. With chapters from coast to coast in the United States and eleven international affiliates, JDF gives more money to diabetes research than any other nonprofit, nongovernmental health agency in the world. In 1996, JDF awarded $30.3 million to diabetes research, bringing its cumulative dollar commitment to $220 million.
Other contact: Vanessa McGowan, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Tel.: 212-479-7530