Genes May Put Black Americans at Risk for Diabetes

MONDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Inherited genetic variations could explain why blacks develop type 2 diabetes at a higher rate than whites, new research suggests.

"We found gene expression profiles that suggest that carbohydrate metabolism should be different in the African-Americans in our population compared to Caucasians," Dr. Cam Patterson, chief of cardiology and director of the McAllister Heart Institute at the University of North Carolina, said in a university news release.

That, in turn, could lead to higher rates of diabetes in blacks.

The authors of the new study discovered their findings while analyzing RNA and DNA from heart patients. "We didn't set out to look at differences in genetics or gene expression based on race or ethnicity. We were looking at the major factors that were contributing to differences in gene expression across all the patients we were studying," Patterson explained.

Black people may have developed a different way of metabolizing glucose -- sugars -- long ago in history, Patterson noted, perhaps when they were living in an environment where there was little food or when diets were very different than they are now.

"In essence, although African populations moved geographically as they came to the United States, their genes retained a pattern more suited to their ancestor's home, becoming maladaptive as African populations adopted a Western diet," he said.

The study findings were published online Dec. 9 in the journal PLoS One.

-- Randy Dotinga

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SOURCE: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, news release, Dec. 28, 2009