Biomarker shows reduced risk of gestational diabetes for Maori and Pacific women

A version of a gene in pregnant Māori and Pacific women with obesity in the Counties Manukau region of Auckland reduces their risk of developing gestational diabetes by 80 per cent.

Māori and Pacific women are more likely to have obesity and develop gestational diabetes (GDM) in pregnancy. GDM is associated with pregnancy complications and is a risk factor for later development of type 2 diabetes.

Previously a version (‘allele’) of a gene called CREBRF has been shown to increase weight yet protect from type 2 diabetes in Māori and Pacific people. Research published by the HUMBA (Healthy Mums and Babies) Study Team) at the University of Auckland's Medical School and Liggins Institute in Diabetologia , states this CREBRF gene variant may be useful in Māori and Pacific women for GDM risk stratification in early pregnancy.

These study findings have relevance not only for NZ women of Māori and Pacific ancestry, but also for women living in the Pacific Islands who have even higher rates of GDM and type 2 diabetes.

Diabetologist and one of the lead investigators in this study, Associate Professor Rinki Murphy of the Medical School says, “CREBRF gene testing only costs around $10, and in future may become a useful medical test by signalling that the 30 per cent of Māori and Pacific people who carry the ‘A’ allele variant have a lower risk of GDM and type 2 diabetes than the population average. This is the first biomarker identified for resilience to GDM.”

The screening would mean that many women would not have to undergo the invasive testing for glucose and allow support to be directed to those women more likely to develop GDM.

Further research is seeking to understand whether the babies who also carry this diabetes protective gene have different patterns of growth and body composition in infancy. “This potentially raises important questions about how we interpret birth size and growth in Māori and Pacific infants in New Zealand”, says Dr Chris McKinlay of the Liggins Institute, lead paediatrician on the study.

* The Pacific-specific CREBRF rs373863828 allele protects against gestational diabetes mellitus in Māori and Pacific women with obesity

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