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A top Indian diabetes expert has travelled to Newcastle this week to learn about a new branch of science which could improve health across the world.

Dr Ranjan Yajnik, a diabetologist at KEM Hospital in Pune in India is attending a short course organised by Dr Caroline Relton of Newcastle University, a world leader in the field of epigenetic epidemiology.

Epigenetics is a rapidly emerging and exciting area of scientific research which may help us to explain how the environment and genome work in concert to influence our risk of many diseases. Evidence is growing that factors like diet, exercise, smoking and hormones can alter the regulation of our genome - when genes are switched on and when they are switched off - even before birth.

This could have a big impact on the development of diseases such as diabetes, which is a big problem in India, with up to 60 milllion people suffering from diabetes Type 2.

Dr Yajnik said: “The problem is increasing very rapidly and the clinics are inundated with patients. At the moment there are about 60 million diabetes patients and that is increasing all the time.

“We wanted to find the factors that are causing this massive increase. Not many people in India are overweight but it seems that Indian people have a higher level of body fat even though they look thin and it is that that causes the diabetes. We want to know why that is and what we may be able to do about it.

 “The genetic factors are not clear but hopefully epigenetics can give us some of those answers, so we came over to Newcastle as it is world leading in this field. The course so far has been fascinating and I’ve learnt many things which I will be able to take back to my colleagues in India.”

Dr Caroline Relton, senior lecturer at the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University, who organised the five day workshop said: “Epigenetics sounds complicated but in a nutshell it’s the study of how our genes are regulated. Epigenetics can help us understand how genes and the environment act together to influence disease risk.

“There are switches that turn genes on and off and these are impacted by environmental effects. So for example malnutrition in the womb could leave someone more prone to diabetes in later life, even if normally they would not be genetically disposed to it, because a switch is pulled.

“Epigenetics could have an impact on any common diseases which are influenced by the environment and lifestyle.

“This is a field in which Newcastle has unique expertise at the moment and we decided to host this five day event because there is so much interest in this from around the world. We have been joined by colleagues from India, Brazil, South Africa and across Europe to learn about how we undertake epigenetic research. ”

 

published on: 18th June 2012

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