New test offers better insight into genetic risk of type 1 diabetes in people of African descent

Our ancestry often plays a determining role when it comes to matters of health. In fact, genetics can help scientists establish which populations are at greater risk of contracting different diseases, including type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Recently, a team of researchers in the United States developed a test to identify individuals of African descent who are more likely to get the disease. Partly funded by JDRF, the project involved analyzing the genetic data of 1,021 people with T1D from African backgrounds – the largest number ever studied from this ethnic group. The investigators also examined a control group of 2,928 participants who didn’t have T1D. The team used the information to devise a genetic risk score for T1D specifically for people with African ancestry; the mark was then compared to European-based ones to see which more accurately predicted T1D risk.

Among their findings, there was an overlap of high-risk genes between people of European and African backgrounds. As well, those of African ancestry had certain high-risk sections of DNA that were specific to them. It was concluded that the African-specific genetic risk score was much better at identifying people at risk of T1D in people of African ancestry than the European risk scores.

Until recently, genetic risk score tests have been almost exclusively based on European data, which made them less suitable for people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. The new method of screening will not only allow greater opportunities for targeted preventative interventions for those with African ancestry at greater risk of T1D, but also ensure that they receive appropriate care and treatment at the onset of diagnosis.

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