Researchers discover genetic code for Greenland diabetes

Danish geneticists have finally got to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the higher-than-average incidences of type 2 diabetes among Greenlanders.

The scientists have learnt that a genetic variation that is present in almost 20 per cent of all Greenlanders’ DNA results in an 80 per cent greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

University of Copenhagen’s Novo Nordisk Foundation professor Torben Hansen, who was one of the study’s main researchers, said the revelation can now be used to help understand, prevent and diagnose type 2 diabetes all over the world. He added that the research has given them greater knowledge of the link between the disease and the genetic variant.

The variation slows down the production of a certain protein that carries sugar from the bloodstream towards the muscles, something that can contribute to the development of diabetes.

Hansen and University of Copenhagen colleague Anders Albrechtsen explained that the traditional Greenlandic diet was high in protein and low in carbohydrates, which meant high blood-sugar levels were maintained for a long time. This, they believe, may have been advantageous to indigenous Greenlanders as they evolved.

However, diets these days have changed and are high in sugars, meaning that if the human body cannot produce enough protein to carry the sugar from the bloodstream to the muscles, there could be a greater chance of diabetes developing. The researchers are of the opinion that change in the local diet may explain the rising number of type 2 diabetes cases in Greenland over the last 25 years.