Type 2 diabetes is a global epidemic with major effects on healthcare expenditure and quality of life. Currently available treatments are inadequate for the prevention of comorbidities, yet progress towards new therapies remains slow. A major barrier is the insufficiency of traditional preclinical models for predicting drug efficacy and safety. Human genetics offers a complementary model to assess causal mechanisms for target validation. Genetic perturbations are 'experiments of nature' that provide a uniquely relevant window into the long-term effects of modulating specific targets. Here, we show that genetic discoveries over the past decades have accurately predicted (now known) therapeutic mechanisms for type 2 diabetes. These findings highlight the potential for use of human genetic variation for prospective target validation, and establish a framework for future applications. Studies into rare, monogenic forms of diabetes have also provided proof-of-principle for precision medicine, and the applicability of this paradigm to complex disease is discussed. Finally, we highlight some of the limitations that are relevant to the use of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in the search for new therapies for diabetes. A key outstanding challenge is the translation of GWAS signals into disease biology and we outline possible solutions for tackling this experimental bottleneck.
Keywords: Adverse effects; Genome-wide association studies; Human genetics; Monogenic diabetes; Precision medicine; Review; Target discovery; Target validation; Therapeutic mechanisms; Type 2 diabetes.