Their search for these indicators includes the genes that set the stage for risk, messenger RNA expressed by genes as well as proteins, the ultimate product of gene expression.
"Basically, we want to identify biomarkers to predict type 1 diabetes using different approaches," says Dr. Jin-Xiong She, director of the MCG Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine. The geneticist and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Genomic Medicine just received $5 million in new funding - including two grants from the National Institutes of Health and another from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation - to pursue that objective.
"We look at what genetic mutations people have," Dr. She says of his long-term studies of babies at risk for the disease and older children and adults who have it. "We look at what environmental triggers might be involved, the outcome of the gene-environment interaction and messenger RNA and protein levels. You have to look at it that way. In the end, we want to put everything together and integrate that information into a predictive test. That is the hope."
Using advanced genomics, Dr. She's research team already has analyzed 10,000 of the recently revised estimate of 20,000 to 25,000 human genes and identified about 100 genes that may predict type 1 diabetes.
The new Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Grant will help validate those findings. "Because these 100 genes are different in people with diabetes as well as pre-diabetics versus controls, we believe they can be used for diabetes prediction. But how well it will work or really if it will work at all, we don't know, so we have to study additional populations," Dr. She says. He will follow individuals with these suspect genes from birth to development of diabetes to see how the 100 genes change.