"Our research goal is to explain the causes behind type 2 diabetes. This disease results from a collision between heredity and environment. Although we are well aware of the environmental factors that contribute to the onset of the disease, i.e. too little exercise and too much caloric intake, our knowledge about the genetic factors is insufficient."
"The situation, however, has changed dramatically in recent years. A strong contributing factor is the rapid advancement of molecular biology and technologies such as mapping of the entire genome. During 2007 we, and other research groups, published the first studies mapping the genome in patients with type 2 diabetes, which Science magazine called, ‘Breakthrough of the Year 2007´."
"Today, we are aware of about 20 gene variants that increase the risk for type 2 diabetes. However, we must recognise that they comprise common gene variants that appear in a large percent of patients worldwide, but explain a relatively small percent of the genetic risk."
"If technology continues to advance as it has up to now, I am optimistic that within a few years we can find most of the genetic causes behind the disease."
How far have you come? "We have already learnt many new things about the disease. Most of the new gene variants that increase the risk for type 2 diabetes affect the ability of insulin-producing cells to meet the greater demands of our Western lifestyle. An exciting observation is that many of gene variants that increase the risk for type 2 diabetes appear to protect against different forms of cancer — if the insulin-producing cells cannot grow sufficiently it becomes diabetes, if other cells grow too much it becomes cancer."
"An important goal is to use genetics to describe the course of disease and how different people respond to different treatments. I am convinced that in the not-too-distant future we will be using genetics to achieve more individualized treatment."
Why did you choose this particular research topic? "At my first job, in a primary care centre and local hospital in Finland, we had a medical consultant who somewhat cynically said that our treatment of diabetic patients was poor. But it was that way everywhere in the 1970s. So I decided to show him, and I´m still on that path."