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Archive for Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Diabetes gene revolution may bring better care

March 19, 2008

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— You've heard of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but what about a kind called MODY?

Diabetes is undergoing a genetics revolution that suggests there actually are many subtypes of the disease.

The discoveries already trigger important changes in treatment for a fraction of patients with some rare diabetes types caused by single genes gone awry - if they have a doctor aware of the findings.

"We've got a whole group of diabetologists who have never heard of this," laments Dr. Andrew Hattersley, a British physician-scientist who pioneered how to treat single-gene subtypes collectively known as MODY, shorthand for six different subtypes thought to account for 2 percent of all diabetes.

Yet the vast majority of diabetes is caused by complex interactions among numerous genes and modern lifestyles - and a flurry of genetic discoveries in the past year finally points to new ways of attacking the epidemic.

So this week, U.S. health officials are bringing 20 drug companies together with international gene specialists to jump-start the hunt for new therapies.

Why does diabetes strike one person who's overweight but not another who's equally heavy? Why does one diabetic need dialysis while another has healthy kidneys despite decades of bad blood sugar? The newest gene work suggests there likely are even more subtypes that explain those differences, and that in turn may require personalized treatment just as MODY does.

Some 21 million Americans have diabetes, meaning their bodies cannot properly turn blood sugar into energy. Either they don't produce enough insulin or don't use it correctly.

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