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New insights into diabetes, obesity risk among Polynesian people

22 June 2018

A new study by Maurice Wilkins Centre Diabetes Genetics Flagship researchers has revealed important new information about the effects of a gene variant on diabetes and obesity risk in Polynesian people.

The study, recently published in leading medical journal Diabetologia, showed that Polynesian adults residing in New Zealand with the CREBRF rs373863828 A allele have a raised risk of obesity but a paradoxically reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. [Krishnan M, et al. 2018]

Statistical analyses were used to determine if the gene variant was linked to various conditions such as obesity, diabetes, gout and kidney disease, in a total of 2,286 Māori or Pacific people.

The gene variant was strongly associated with higher body mass index (indicative of obesity). However, those individuals with the genotype had a 41% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those without it. There was no impact on gout or chronic kidney disease risk.

Importantly, these findings were very similar to those observed in a recent study conducted in Samoan adults living in Samoa and American Samoa. [Minster RL, et al. 2016]

This latest data add to an accumulating body of evidence suggesting that the CREBRF gene variant affects Polynesian people from different parts of the Pacific in a similar way when it comes to obesity and diabetes risk.

“This paper in Diabetologia, which is a really tough journal to get in to, is the first group publication for our Diabetes Genetics Flagship,” says Professor Shepherd, Deputy Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre. “This will be the first of a large number of excellent publications to come from this group.”

“Aotearoa has the largest resident Polynesian population in the world and our unique model of our scientists working in partnership with Māori research organisations puts this programme in a good position to do research that can contribute to improving health outcomes for Māori and Pacific peoples,” he added.



Krishnan, M., Major, T.J., Topless, R.K. et al. Discordant association of the CREBRF rs373863828 A allele with increased BMI and protection from type 2 diabetes in Māori and Pacific (Polynesian) people living in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Diabetologia. 2018 Jul;61(7):1603-1613. doi: 10.1007/s00125-018-4623-1. Epub 2018 May 2.

Minster, R.L., Hawley N.L, Su, C.T., et al. A thrifty variant in CREBRF strongly influences body mass index in Samoans. Nat Genet. 2016 Sep;48(9):1049-1054. doi: 10.1038/ng.3620. Epub 2016 Jul 25.