Dialing in a New Treatment for Type 2 Diabetes

December 8, 2023

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Type 2 Diabetes is a worldwide growing pandemic. Globally, around 425 million people have type 2 diabetes; that’s more than the entire US population. Almost 10% of Americans have type 2 diabetes, which is characterized by the body’s inability to regulate blood sugar (glucose). Uncontrolled high blood glucose levels can have severe long-term effects, impacting the cardiovascular system, brain function, and overall mortality. Because of the increased dangers associated with diabetes, there are a myriad of medications that target this disease. Unfortunately, these can be difficult to adhere to and usually require a daily activity like a pill, blood strip testing, and/or exercise. The more intensive and difficult these steps are (for instance, taking three pills a day vs one), the less likely people will be able to follow through. Additionally, though the medications can effectively reduce blood sugar levels and the risk of complications, they do not target the underlying disease. Medications may need to be increased or changed if the disease progresses. So, what is the underlying disease profile?

The big picture causes of type 2 diabetes include genetics, diet, exercise, and overall weight. Inside the body, these risk factors and habits manifest as cellular changes. The most significant change that takes place is called insulin resistance. Insulin is an important hormone that helps your body manage blood sugar; when cells are resistant to insulin, they can’t adequately respond to high blood sugar. This is the key indicator of type 2 diabetes. Many medications attempt to correct insulin resistance by replicating or replacing chemicals involved in the insulin pathway – including insulin itself in advanced cases. These have been a significant boon to many patients, but what if we could go deeper?

One of the changes many people see is in the intestines. The part of the intestines connected to the stomach is called the duodenum. The duodenum is short but important. It regulates the release of  hormones like glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and gastric inhibitory peptide (GIP), both disrupted in insulin resistance. Scientists have found evidence that people with type 2 diabetes have increased duodenum tissue; a process called hypertrophy. Tissue removal in these patients may positively affect type 2 diabetes.

One of the most successful therapies for type 2 diabetes is bariatric (weight loss) surgery that bypasses some or all of the duodenum. These surgeries have been shown to have an immediate and long-lasting effect on people with diabetes. Studies have found that A1C levels, which measure blood sugar, are completely back to normal range in patients who have had these surgeries at a rate five times higher than people on medication alone. It is thought that by bypassing or removing the duodenum, the hypertrophic cells stop interfering with the insulin process, and insulin resistance decreases or is outright reversed! Also, since surgery is a one-time deal, the adherence problems of pills and other daily activities are reduced or eliminated.

Unfortunately, surgery is invasive, intensive, painful, and somewhat risky (10-20% have complications). Additionally, removing parts of the duodenum can result in malabsorption of nutrients. To solve this, researchers have devised a new investigative procedure for tackling type 2 diabetes. Instead of cutting the body open and removing, adding, or rearranging the intestinal tract, a new approach called the Revita system is being tested. This system revolves around a catheter that moves into the duodenum and ablates, or removes, the top layer of hypertrophic duodenum tissue. Early studies have shown that by targeting just the hypertrophic tissue, the duodenum will heal and retain its function while blood sugar normalizes. This is an exciting potential alternative to normal bariatric surgery for people with type 2 diabetes.

Staff Writer / Editor Benton Lowey-Ball, BS, BFA

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