a1 Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit, Institute of Metabolic Science, Cambridge, UK.
The prevalence of obesity and diabetes, which are heritable traits that arise from the interactions of multiple genes and lifestyle factors, continues to rise worldwide, causing serious health problems and imposing a substantial economic burden on societies. For the past 15 years, candidate gene and genome-wide linkage studies have been the main genetic epidemiological approaches to identify genetic loci for obesity and diabetes, yet progress has been slow and success limited. The genome-wide association approach, which has become available in recent years, has dramatically changed the pace of gene discoveries. Genome-wide association is a hypothesis-generating approach that aims to identify new loci associated with the disease or trait of interest. So far, three waves of large-scale genome-wide association studies have identified 19 loci for common obesity and 18 for common type 2 diabetes. Although the combined contribution of these loci to the variation in obesity and diabetes risk is small and their predictive value is typically low, these recently identified loci are set to substantially improve our insights into the pathophysiology of obesity and diabetes. This will require integration of genetic epidemiological methods with functional genomics and proteomics. However, the use of these novel insights for genetic screening and personalised treatment lies some way off in the future.