25 June 2020

Gene-based personalised medicine to treat diabetes


A new project will draw on the genetic information of diabetes patients so that doctors can provide them with personalized treatment. Thanks to a 30 million kroner grant from the Innovation Fund Denmark, the project will support research that will improve the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes.

Torben Hansen at CBMR

Small genetic variations can have a major impact on which types of treatment to offer patients with diabetes. While this is well-known, busy doctors lack the tools to be able to integrate this knowledge into their diagnosis and treatment of diabetes patients.

The project TRANSLATE will now allow doctors to offer personalised medicine to diabetes patients. Whole genome sequences of patient DNA will undergo advanced data analysis, and the results communicated to doctors through newly developed software along with treatment recommendations. 

”We know of many different genetic variations that can help doctors to make the right diagnosis and choose the right treatment for individual patients. But for this knowledge to reach as many patients as possible, doctors need a simple way to turn the genetic information into treatment recommendation,” says Professor Torben Hansen from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen.

Some patients with type 2 diabetes have a benign form of the disease, in which their blood sugar levels are only slightly elevated. These patients do not need the same type of treatment as other patients. However, all diabetes patients are currently offered the same treatment based on standardised recommendations, which means some patients are receiving medication that they do not need. These overmedicated patients cost around DKK 20,000 per year.

Scientists have long understood the impact that these genetic variations may have on individual treatment. However, doctors have lacked a system that would allow them to implement this knowledge into practice. TRANSLATE will develop a web-based tool that plugs into the healthcare IT systems that doctors use on a daily basis. The tool will offer treatment recommendations based on a patient’s unique DNA, while providing an in-depth explanation for the specific recommendations.

Through the TRANSLATE project, 6,500 patients with type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes will have their blood drawn for genetic testing. These tests will be carried out in close collaboration with the University of Copenhagen, hospitals in the Capital Region of Denmark, the sequencing giant BGI in Denmark and the Danish National Genome Center. The results will be communicated to doctors and patients through a new software platform that is being developed by Intomics A/S.

The patients’ genetic data will be stored in the Danish National Genome Center. This collaboration ensures that the study is carried out and communicated cheaply and quickly, while also allowing patients to control their genetic data.

Whole genome sequencing is becoming cheap and widespread, providing studies like TRANSLATE with data that can be used to diagnose and treat individual patients. However, the stored data will also serve as reference material that can be used to help diagnose other patient groups, as well as inform research to optimize diagnosis, treatment and preventative care.

“These initiatives are extremely important for ensuring that we build a robust system so that patients with other common diseases can benefit from genetic diagnosis,” says Torben Hansen.

The project is a collaboration between the Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen and the Department of Obstetrics at Rigshospitalet, Herlev Hospital, Hillerød Hospital, and Hvidovre Hospital in the Capital Region of Denmark, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, and the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen, the Danish National Genome Center, Intomics A/S, and BGI.

Further information

Professor Torben Hansen, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen
Tel: +45 20 56 53 01
Email: torben.hansen@sund.ku.dk

Investment from the Innovation Fund Denmark: DKK 29,924,798
Investment by collaborators: DKK 24,967,082   
Total budget: DKK 54,891,880
Project length: 5 years

Official title: TRANSLATE - Translating Genetic Knowledge into Clinical Care in Non-Autoimmune Diabetes