Type 2 diabetes could be broken down into different subtypes, according to research published today in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.
Scientists in Sweden and Finland have found that Type 2 diabetes could be separated out into four subtypes, which have distinct characteristics. This suggests that people with Type 2 diabetes might be affected by their diabetes in different ways and benefit from different treatments.
The researchers studied nearly 15,000 people with diabetes across Sweden and Finland. They examined factors like body mass index, blood glucose control and how well insulin-producing cells in the pancreas were working. Of the four types, they found the more common two were linked to older age or being overweight. The other two less common types were linked to a higher risk of diabetes-related complications.
A new way of thinking about Type 2?
At the moment, we think of Type 2 diabetes as one condition. But this research highlights the fact that there are likely to be differences within this.
With almost 3.7 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK, of which around 90 per cent have Type 2, it’s unlikely that everyone has exactly the same condition.
Moving away from one-size-fits all to a more personalised approach could mean better care for people with Type 2 diabetes. From a more precise diagnosis, through to tailored treatments to manage blood glucose levels and reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications. For example, some might benefit from starting insulin therapy earlier after diagnosis, or perhaps being monitored more closely for complications.
This study is the first step in helping us understand the breakdown of Type 2 diabetes. But there’s still a lot to discover about potential subtypes before we get to the point where we can tailor individual treatments.
Dr Emily Burns, Head of Research Communications, said: “Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are very different conditions, but we don’t yet know enough about the subtypes that could exist within them. Finding those subtypes will help us personalise treatments and potentially reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications in the future.
“This research takes a promising step toward breaking down Type 2 diabetes in more detail, but we still need to know more about these subtypes before we can understand what this means for people living with the condition. For example, whether we’d find the same subtypes in people of different ethnicity or nationality.”
What about Type 1 diabetes?
Scientists across the world are also looking at whether subtypes of Type 1 diabetes could exist. For example, research suggests that some people have a form of Type 1 diabetes that progresses much faster, or more slowly, than others. So we hope to move toward personalised medicines for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in the future.