Ethnic diversity in the genetic study of glycemic traits gives better results


By including multi-ethnic participants, a large-scale genetic study identified more regions of the genome linked to traits linked to type 2 diabetes than if the research had been conducted in Europeans alone.

The MAGIC international collaboration, made up of more than 400 academics from around the world, conducted a genome-wide association meta-analysis led by the University of Exeter. Now published in Genetics of nature, their results demonstrate that expanding research to different ancestors is yielding more and better results, while ultimately benefiting patient care on a global basis.

So far, almost 87% of such genomic research has been carried out in Europeans. This means that the way in which these results are implemented may not be of optimal benefit to people of non-European descent.

The team analyzed data from a wide range of cohorts, encompassing more than 280,000 people without diabetes. Researchers looked at blood sugar traits, which are used to diagnose diabetes and monitor blood sugar and insulin levels.

The researchers incorporated 30% of the overall cohort with individuals of East Asian, Hispanic, African American, South Asian, and sub-Saharan African descent. In doing so, they discovered 24 more loci – or regions of the genome – linked to blood sugar traits than if they had conducted the research in Europeans alone.

Professor Inês Barroso, University of Exeter, who led the research, said: “Type 2 diabetes is a growing global health challenge, with most of the largest increases occurring in outside of Europe. While there are many common genetic factors between different countries and cultures, our research tells us that they differ, in ways we need to understand. It is essential to ensure that we can deliver a precision diabetes medicine approach that optimizes treatment and care for everyone. “

We discovered 24 additional regions of the genome including cohorts that were more ethnically diverse than we would have had if we had limited our work to Europeans. Beyond the moral arguments for ensuring that research reflects global populations, our work demonstrates that this approach produces better results. “

Dr Ji Chen, first author, University of Exeter

The team found that while some loci weren’t detected in all lineages, they were still useful in capturing information about the glycemic trait of that lineage. Co-author Cassandra Spracklen, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, said, “Our results are important because we are moving towards using genetic scores to assess a person’s risk for diabetes. We know that scores developed exclusively in individuals of a different ancestry. This is important as more and more healthcare is moving towards a more precise approach. Ignoring genetic variation by ancestry will impact our ability to accurately diagnose diabetes.


Journal reference:

Chen, J., et al. (2021) The trans-ancestral genomic architecture of glycemic traits. Genetics of nature.

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