Good news for young type 2 diabetics

There may be hope for young adults suffering from type 2 diabetes, according to new research. Writing in the journal Diabetes Care, the researchers from Ireland, Spain and Italy investigated how new mechanisms in muscle cells may elucidate severe insulin resistance in the body, and showed a reduced response to aerobic exercise in young obese patients with type 2 diabetes. The study's results are part of the DIABESITY (Novel molecular drug targets for obesity and type 2 diabetes) project, funded under the 'Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health' Thematic area of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) to the tune of EUR 11.6 million.

Type 2 diabetes is the world's most common form of diabetes, and represents almost 90% of diabetic cases in Europe. Data from the Institute of Public Health in Ireland suggest that 4.3% of the Irish population is afflicted with type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes differs from type 1 in that it emerges when the body does not generate enough insulin and cannot properly use the insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes typically affects people as they age. However, researchers have noticed a growing number of younger people affected by this disorder. Experts say lifestyle factors including obesity, diet and lack of exercise are common triggers. Type 1 diabetes is also called Juvenile Diabetes. Its onset usually occurs in childhood or adolescence after an auto-immune destruction of the insulin-producing cells. Type 1 sufferers, as well as some type 2 patients, must inject insulin daily to control sugar levels. Over the years, both diseases may lead to severe complications if sugar levels in the blood are repeatedly too high.

"Type 2 diabetes is presenting in much younger people, usually because of early onset obesity and a strong family background of diabetes," explained co-author Professor John Nolan of the Department of Clinical Medicine at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, head of the university's Metabolic Research Group, and St James's Hospital in Dublin.

"These studies provide us with important new insights into the way diabetes develops and progresses in these young patients. In this study, we have shown that obese young patients with type 2 diabetes, in contrast to equally obese young people without diabetes, have abnormal function of key mitochondrial genes and proteins. Mitochondria are the energy centres in cells and these abnormalities contribute to insulin resistance and a severely blunted response to physical exercise," he added.

"Aerobic exercise is very effective in preventing and treating type 2 diabetes in middle aged and older people. Type 2 diabetes is the major chronic disease of modern societies and threatens the health of populations, most dramatically in Asia and developing countries," he went on to say. "Designing specific treatments for type 2 diabetes in young people depends on a more exact understanding of the cellular mechanisms of this disease. Our studies of muscle mitochondrial function have allowed us to focus intervention studies on these important new mechanisms."

This latest research fuels understanding about how diabetes develops and progresses in young people aged between 18 to 25 years. The researchers believe their findings will lead to improved specific treatments for young people with type 2 diabetes.

Also contributing to this study were researchers from Spain's Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), the University of Barcelona, and the Biomedical Research Network on Diabetes and Associated Metabolic Disorders (CIBERDEM), as well as the Institute of Internal Medicine, School of Medicine at the Catholic University in Italy.

The DIABESITY project brought together 25 research institutes and industry actors from Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

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