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GENIE makes important diabetes discovery

05 October 2012 Queen's University, Belfast

An international group of researchers has discovered two genes that increase the risk of developing diabetes-associated kidney disease. 

Kidney disease is a common and serious complication of diabetes and it is associated with a greatly increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Globally, diabetic kidney disease is now the leading cause of kidney failure requiring dialysis or kidney transplant. Up to now scientists and clinicians were aware that some patients developed kidney disease but not why this happened.

This ‘GENIE consortium’, led by researchers from Queen’s University Belfast; University College Dublin; Harvard University and the University of Helsinki, is supported by the US-Ireland R&D Partnership with funding from the Health and Social Care R&D Division of the Public Health Agency, Science Foundation Ireland and the US National Institutes of Health.

Professor Bernie Hannigan, Director of HSC R&D congratulated the researchers on their success, saying: “This research consortium is tremendously productive. Their dedicated work will immediately benefit patient management and in the longer term can lead to new treatments with both health and economic impacts. Such international research collaboration can result in gains for all partners involved.”

In the largest study of its kind, the investigators recruited 4,750 patients with diabetic kidney disease and almost 7,000 patients with long-standing diabetes but without kidney disease.

Professor Peter Maxwell of Queen’s University, one of the principal investigators on the study, commented: “Currently available drugs cannot cure the kidney failure but may slow its progression. Knowing which patients are most at risk of kidney complications will be helpful in managing their diabetes.”

Researchers analysed over two million DNA markers per person and found that changes associated with two genes (AFF3 and ERBB4) increased the risk of kidney disease. Findings were published in the journal PLoS Genetics.

Professor Catherine Godson, lead investigator of the UCD group observed: “These new research findings are very important as they help accelerate development of new and effective therapies”. 

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