Genetic study reveals lung disorders as a complication of type 2 diabetes

Monday 11 December 2023

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A genetic study exploring how genes affect health outcomes has concluded that lung disorders should now be considered a complication of type 2 diabetes.

The study, conducted by Professor Chris Reynolds and Assistant Professor Giuseppe Deganutti from Coventry University’s Research Centre for Health and Life Sciences alongside over a hundred scientists from all around the world, discovered how genetic variants influence blood sugar levels.

Previous studies have demonstrated that lung conditions, including restrictive lung disease, fibrosis, and pneumonia, are more common in people with type 2 diabetes. However, until now, it was not known whether type 2 diabetes directly damages the lungs or if other factors, such as smoking or physical inactivity, are responsible.

The glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor (GLP-1R) is a gene with many variants, and some have been reported to affect insulin secretion and susceptibility to type 2 diabetes.

Injectable medications called GLP-1R agonists are commonly used to lower the blood sugar levels of people with type 2 diabetes, and response to this medication depends on the GLP-1R gene variant found in each individual.

To test whether declining lung function is a direct complication of type 2 diabetes, or if it is in fact the result of a personal lifestyle choice such as smoking, the researchers used a statistical technique called Mendelian randomisation (used to examine the correlation between potentially modifiable risk factors and health outcomes) to determine whether high blood sugar levels are linked to impaired lung function, and if one causes the other.

Lung function was measured using two common spirometry tests used to diagnose lung conditions. The study showed that an increase in average blood sugar levels results in a 20% decrease in lung function, revealing that high blood sugar levels can directly cause lung disorders.

This new insight into how genes affect blood sugar levels could contribute to the early detection of lung conditions as well as help establish preventative measures to improve the health of people living with type 2 diabetes.

As respiratory disease is one of the main causes of death in the UK, the revolutionary findings of this study emphasise the need for healthcare professionals to be more vigilant when it comes to lung complications in people with type 2 diabetes. Now that both conditions have been formally linked, I hope that this study leads to the early detection and treatment of lung disorders to potentially save the lives of thousands of people living with diabetes.

Professor Chris Reynolds, Centre for Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University

This hugely important study, involving over a hundred scientists from around the globe, gives us new insights into the genetics of blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetes. Already now, we can act on better prevention from complications, including lung disease. We should improve treatment strategies for people with this condition, by studying individual DNA variants in relation to GLP-1R agonist response.

Professor Inga Prokopenko, Professor of e-One Health and Head of Statistical Multi-Omics, University of Surrey

Find out more about the study or contact Chris Reynolds for more information.