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Gene tied to development of diabetes identified


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Issue 22 Q2 2005

Gene tied to development of diabetes identified

By Anthony J. Brown, MD

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Chemists say they have identified a gene that appears to play a key role in the development of type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes, a disease that affects about one million people in the US and is on the rise globally. The discovery could lead to new treatments for diabetes.

The gene is called macrophage migration inhibitory factor or MIF. According to research presented Thursday at a meeting in San Diego, mice specially bred to lack this gene failed to develop diabetes, whereas "wild-type" mice with this gene developed diabetes as expected.

MIF has several pro-inflammatory properties, which may damage islet cells. Located in the pancreas, islet cells contain insulin-producing beta cells. In people with diabetes, the immune system can launch a misguided attack against beta cells.

In a previous study, Dr. Yousef Al-Abed, from North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Manhasset, New York, and colleagues found that MIF levels are elevated in diabetic animals. A next step is to see whether the same is true in humans with type 1 diabetes.

MIF could represent a viable target for diabetes interventions. "It is not the only factor involved in this complex disease, but it is certainly a promising target for its prevention and treatment," Al-Abed said in statement.

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