A recent study published in the journal Nature Genetics suggests that a gene linked to diabetes and cholesterol regulates the behavior of other genes found in fat. This breakthrough discovery of a “master regulator” switch for fat could eventually lead to the development of new, more effective drugs to treat heart disease and diabetes.
Some genes directly determine a person’s hereditary traits such as hair, eye and skin color. Some genes are responsible for a person inheriting the risk for disease such as breast cancer or heart disease. Other genes act as master switches and control processes throughout the body. Regulating genes are not directly responsible for the expression of these hereditary traits, but instead they serve to influence the genes that are responsible. Finding these “master switch” genes help scientists understand why other genes act the way they do.
Scientists were aware that a gene known as KLF14 had a correlation with Type 2 diabetes and cholesterol levels, but they didn’t know why. British researchers recently discovered that KLF14 regulates other genes found in fat tissue, and the genes controlled by KLF14 are linked to other metabolic traits such as body mass index, obesity, HDL (bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin and glucose levels.
Obesity has doubled since the 1980s and become a worldwide epidemic affecting both rich and poor countries. Approximately 10 percent of the world’s adult population, or more than half a billion people, suffer from obesity. In the U.S., more than one third of Americans are obese and have the obesity gene. Furthermore, nearly $150 billion a year, or 10 percent of all medical costs, is spent on obesity-related diseases in the U.S. alone.
Scientists are hoping that this new discovery of the fat “master switch” will help them better understand and prevent obesity and create treatments for obesity-related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.