Obesity and Diabetes Risk: It’s in Your Genes
Ever wonder why some people seem able to eat anything and not gain weight, while others pack on pounds just by thinking about eating? Or why you now know so many people with diabetes? Dr. Susanne Clee’s research is showing that the answers to these questions lie, at least in part, in our DNA.
We all know that the current obesity epidemic is fuelled by modern lifestyles that combine increased fat and carbohydrate consumption with reduced physical activity. However, some people are able to resist the effects of this environment, while others readily gain weight.
At the same time, diabetes is becoming more and more common—no coincidence, since obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes. Most people who develop Type 2 diabetes are overweight, although many overweight people do not develop diabetes. Clee, Canada Research Chair in the Genetics of Obesity and Diabetes, believes genetic factors might be the key to determining who is vulnerable.
For most people, obesity and diabetes aren’t caused by changes in a single “magic bullet” type of gene. Instead, variations in dozens of genes may each lead to a small increase or decrease in risk, which, when taken together, determine our likelihood of developing these conditions. This complexity, however, has made it very difficult to identify the different responsible genes, and so far only a handful have been reliably shown to affect our risk of obesity or diabetes.
Clee is working to discover additional genes that increase our susceptibility. By studying various strains of mice with different levels of risk for obesity and diabetes, she will determine some of the key things that make them, and us, susceptible. The results will teach us more about how obesity and diabetes develop, and will point to specific things that may have gone awry in ordinary processes to lead to them. This new knowledge will lead to better diagnostic and targeted therapeutic approaches for reducing the consequences of both obesity and diabetes.