Research has shown that Latinos are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic Whites. Lifestyle and diet have been blamed for these higher rates, but researches from the University of Illinois at Chicago wanted to see if genetic ancestry also contributed to the development of diabetic retinopathy.
Their recent study has shown that in fact Latinos with type 2 diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy and it can be traced back to genes of Native American origin.
The research consisted of 135 LALES (Los Angeles Latino Eye Study) participants with type 2 diabetes and severe diabetic retinopathy and 809 participants with type 2 diabetes without severe diabetic retinopathy. Researchers were able to estimate the proportion of Native American, European, and African genetic ancestry in each of the participants. Based on their analysis, those with more than 50 percent Native American genetic ancestry had an 87 percent higher chance of having diabetic retinopathy when compared to those with less than 50 percent Native American ancestry.
Researchers adjusted their findings for other known risk factors for the disease including duration of diabetes, sex, age, socio-economic factors, and glycosylated hemoglobin levels (a measure of glucose control). The association between diabetic retinopathy and Native American ancestry remained significant.
Associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a corresponding author on the study, Xiaoyi Gao, said, “Our next steps will be to try to narrow down which genes among those with greater Native American origin might be contributing to boosting the risk for developing severe diabetic retinopathy.”
The cause of diabetic retinopathy is the deterioration of blood vessels that nourish the retina. As the vessels continue to weaken and leak fluid, the retina does not receive the necessary nutrients thus causing vision problems. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults in the United States. Approximately 25 percent of diabetics have some form of the disease.
According to Ophthalmologist Thomas Henderson, M.D., “This highlights the growing importance of genetically based, personalized medicine in our near future, 3-5 years, with potential risk reduction strategies in 2 of our major blinding diseases – diabetes and macular degeneration.”
If you are diabetic, Eye Clinic of Austin recommends you schedule a dilated eye exam each year to examine any issues your eyes may have related to diabetes.