A Genetic Link Between Type 2 Diabetes and Cancer Identified

An international research team composed of scientists from Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI), Imperial College London, and CNRS-Lille France has identified a genetic marker that will help identify which patients with type 2 diabetes (T2D) are most likely to develop certain kinds of cancer.

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Dr Abdelali Haoudi, Executive Director of QBRI, said:

We are very excited about the finding…This discovery shows a link between diabetes and cancer, diseases that are especially prevalent in Qatar. As such, it represents a major step forward in QBRI’s mission to translate novel scientific discoveries into efficient therapies and better preventative strategies for the two diseases that are the highest priorities for research in Qatar’s National Research Strategy.’

The researchers found that patients with T2D who have the genetic marker are four times more likely than non-diabetics to develop cancer, especially blood cancers, including lymphoma and leukaemia.

The study, which was published in Nature Genetics this week, may lead to genetic testing of patients with T2D to determine if they are at higher risk for developing cancer.

The international research team led by Professor Philippe Froguel, the newly appointed Senior Research Director at QBRI, looked at blood DNA from 7,437 individuals, including 2,208 patients with T2D, to see how many had a chromosomal abnormality known as large clonal mosaic events (CMEs). Prof Froguel said:

We found that the frequency of CME carriers was four times higher in patients with T2D than non-diabetics…We also confirmed a significant effect of age on the development of CMEs.’

Last year, two studies published in Nature Genetics and based on 110,000 participants showed that clonal mosaic events (CMEs) affecting a large part of the chromosomes (or even the entire chromosomes) arise in blood DNA of the elderly and predict risk of cancer, in particular leukaemia. Researchers found that the frequency of CMEs is very low in individuals younger than 50 years, but CMEs affect about two percent of people older than 70 years. Notably, individuals with CME had at least a 10 times higher risk of developing hematologic cancer.

These studies have been supported by QBRI, a member of Qatar Foundation Research and Development (QF R&D), which is home to the Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) and the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF). QBRI was established in 2012 to tackle diseases of major worldwide importance (and particularly prevalent in Qatar and the Middle East) such as diabetes and certain forms of cancer. QBRI has a specific focus on developing translational biomedical research and biotechnology. QBRI has set up eight cutting-edge research centres: Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Research Center, Genomic Medicine and Systems Biology Research Center, Gene-based Therapy Research Center, Biomedical Engineering Research Center, Diabetes Research Center, Cancer Research Center, Genetic Diseases Research Center, and the Qatar Biobank.

Type 2 diabetes is an accelerating-aging disease and is associated with higher prevalence of cancers; in particular blood cancers, including lymphoma and leukaemia. The QBRI research team wondered whether, like aging, T2D would contribute to the development of CMEs in blood, which could partly explain the high prevalence of cancers in patients presenting with T2D.

Via DNA arrays, the scientists assessed the presence of CMEs in blood samples. In addition to finding a higher rate of CMEs among diabetics, the study showed that diabetic carriers of CME presented with a more severe T2D than diabetic non-carriers. Despite having a lower body weight, 70% of the diabetic carriers presented with micro- and/or macrovascular complication of T2D.

The present study may have profound clinical implications. Given the medical interest in detecting precancerous states, especially in T2D where cancer mortality is higher, genetic testing for CMEs may be proposed, in particular in patients with T2D presenting with early-onset complications.

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