Not so Sweet

Epigenetics,that studies how genes are regulated,is now being used to study the spread of diabetes

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Published:June 20, 2012 1:33 am

Epigenetics,that studies how genes are regulated,is now being used to study the spread of diabetes

Considered to be one of the most rapidly developing fields of scientific research,Epigenetics,is now cathcing the eye of doctors and researchers the world over. It can reportedly help explain how the environment and genome work in congruence to influence the added risk of humans getting affected by various diseases. Evidence is growing that factors like diet,exercise,smoking and hormones can alter the regulation of our genome – when genes are switched on and when they are switched off – even before birth.

“This could have a big impact on the development of diseases such as diabetes,a growing reality in India ,with up to 60 milllion people suffering from Type-2 Diabetes,” says Dr Chittranjan Yajnik,a diabetologist at KEM Hospital in Pune. Dr Yajnik recently attended a short course organised by Dr Caroline Relton of Newcastle University,a world leader in the field of epigenetic epidemiology. “The problem is increasing very rapidly and the clinics are inundated with patients,” he adds.  

At the moment,there are about 60 million patients in India affected by diabetes with the number on a constant rise. “We wanted to find the factors causing this massive increase. People in India are not usually overweight. They may look thin but they may have body fat. Even non-visible body fat is a contributory factor to diabetes. We want to know why that is and what we may be able to do about it,” he says.

Dr Yajnik also mentions that even though the genetic factors are not clear but epigenetics can hopefully generate some of those answers. He says,“Hence we came over to Newcastle as it is leading the world in this field. The course so far has been fascinating and I’ve learnt many things which I will be able to take back to my colleagues in India.”

Dr Caroline Relton,senior lecturer at the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University,who organised the five day workshop,says,“Epigenetics sounds complicated but in a nutshell it’s the study of how our genes are regulated. Epigenetics can help us understand how genes and the environment act together to influence disease risk.”

She further pointed out that there are switches that turn genes on and off and these are impacted by environmental effects. So for example malnutrition in the womb could leave someone more prone to diabetes in later life,even if normally they would not be genetically disposed to it,because a switch is pulled. “Epigenetics could have an impact on any common diseases which are influenced by the environment and lifestyle. Several experts from India ,Brazil,South Africa and across Europe to learn about how we undertake epigenetic research. ”she points out.

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