Diabetes researcher Rashmi Prasad at Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC) is awarded this year’s Medeon stipend for her research on heritability of type 2 diabetes and why the disease is inherited from the mother to a greater extent. Her mentor Leif Groop, an internationally recognised diabetes researcher who was active at Lund University for over 20 years, pointed her in this direction.
“He contributed a great deal to the knowledge about heritability of diabetes and was involved in a Finnish study that showed that the risk is greater if the mother has type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a growing health problem and an important driving force for me is to find ways to prevent the disease from breaking out. We need to learn more about how the fetal environment affects the risk in order to succeed," says Rashmi Prasad, associate professor of genomics, diabetes, and endocrinology at Lund University.
Research on women with anemia
Rashmi Prasad’s previous research on families in Finland and Hungary has shown that variations in two previously known risk genes for type 2 diabetes increase the risk for the child to develop the disease if they are inherited from the mother. If they are inherited from the father, on the other hand, it has less or no impact on the risk of the disease.
One of her most recent studies was carried out on pregnant women with anemia in Tanzania. The condition is common in pregnant women in developing countries and may lead to changes in how the offspring develops, which increases the risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.
“We discovered that a lot of genes had been affected in the babies and that the expressions may have been altered because of epigenetic mechanisms. Many of these epigenetic changes have occurred in the fetal environment and are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes later in life. This suggests that we could also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by suggesting preventive measures for women who are either pregnant or planning to have a child," says Rashmi Prasad.
Studies of subgroups of diabetes
Rashmi Prasad is part of a research group that has shown that type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes can be divided into five different subgroups and that there are genetic differences between the four groups of type 2 diabetes. The first studies were carried out on Swedish patients and some of the recent studies have been done on populations in India. Rashmi Prasad has, for example, led a study that shows that there are genetic differences and similarities between different forms of type 2 diabetes in India and Europe. The study also confirmed previous findings that a certain form of type 2 diabetes that is characterised by relatively low BMI is the most common form of the disease in India. Long term, this kind of research may give researchers new clues how to prevent the disease at an early stage.
“In our continued studies on our Swedish cohort All New Diabetics in Skåne (ANDIS), we will look at family history to see in what way diabetes in fathers and mothers can increase the risk of diabetes in children and what the risk looks like in specific subgroups. There is still a lot of things we don't know about heritability of type 2 diabetes," says Rashmi Prasad.
Tailored to the individual
She grew up in India and did her doctoral studies in Germany. Her background from several different countries has been an advantage in the studies of a complex disease such as type 2 diabetes, where there are both similarities and differences between population groups.
“I think it has given me an understanding that there is a lot that we don't know about the disease and that it can differ between groups. This may also mean that the preventive measures need to be tailored to different groups and individuals. I feel honored to receive the stipend and a lot of gratitude towards all the study participants around the world who make our research possible," says Rashmi Prasad.
The Medeon stipend of SEK 50,000 is awarded annually by Medeon Science Park, Moll Wendén Advokatbyrå and Max Matthiessen to a LUDC researcher.