One of New Zealand’s largest and fastest growing health problem is type 2 diabetes (T2D) and it's associated with increased risk of many life-threatening metabolic diseases.
T2D occurs when the body’s ability to clear sugar from the blood is impaired resulting in elevated blood sugar levels. High blood sugar dramatically increases the risk of developing many related diseases like cardiovascular disease, liver disease, stroke and microvascular complications that lead to blindness, amputations and chronic kidney failure. Therefore, this disease has a major impact on the health and well-being of more than 250,000 New Zealanders suffering from T2D and their families.
Genetics is a major factor contributing to an individual’s risk of developing T2D, along with environment. Even in the same environment, some people are more at risk of developing T2D than others. Recent research discovered that 20-30% of people of Māori and Pacific ancestry living in New Zealand have a small variation in a gene called CREBRF, and this variation can protect against the development of T2D.
Dr Troy Merry and his research team in the Department of Nutrition at the University of Auckland and the Maurice Wilkins Centre are working to understand the role of this genetic variant in metabolic disease.
He says, "We currently do not know how this variant protects from T2D, but we do know that the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin, and following a meal blood insulin acts to lowers blood sugar levels.
"However, when T2D develops, the pancreas’s ability to produce insulin is reduced, causing chronically increased blood sugar levels.
"Funds from AMRF will allow us to investigate whether this genetic variant in the CREBRF gene may be protecting the pancreas cells from damage, and whether this leads to a reduced T2D risk in some people of Māori and Pacific ancestry."
As an early career researcher this funding will have a major impact on Dr Merry's career. Dr Merry's is an early career researcher, and since returning to New Zealand in 2016 following international training, he has been working to build a research group centred around understanding metabolic disease, like T2D, which have a major impact on the health of New Zealanders.
"Because this variant in the CREBRF gene is uniquely found in people of Māori and Pacific ancestry, understanding how this variant protects from T2D could have a major impact on the treatment of T2D in New Zealand"
Dr Merry's research shows potential to have a major impact on health care. Understanding how this genetic variant influences T2D risk may guide precision health approaches for Māori and Pacific peoples, and provide new understanding of how to protect the pancreas from dysfunction that causes T2D, potentially leading to the development of new targeted treatment options for T2D.
Interested in participating in this research? The researchers are looking for people with Polynesian ancestry to undergo testing like what's shown by PhD student Chris Puliuvea in this video. Text or ring 027 254 1549 to learn more or visit this webpage.