Thursday September 28th 2023



A research team led by Prof. Inga Prokopenko (the University of Surrey) and Dr. Vasiliki Lagou (VIB-KU Leuven) unveiled three significant discoveries about type 2 diabetes. This research has illuminated the profound influence of genetics on treatment response, uncovered the direct link between type 2 diabetes and reduction in lung function, and unraveled the pivotal role of the gastrointestinal tract in regulating blood sugar levels. The study’s findings have significant implications, ranging from personalized diabetes care to early detection of lung complications. Published in Nature Genetics, this extensive research engaged nearly half a million individuals from diverse backgrounds and harnessed the collective expertise of over a hundred scientists worldwide.

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability worldwide. Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, occurs when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels. More than half a billion people live with diabetes, and in 2019, diabetes and kidney disease due to diabetes caused an estimated 2 million deaths.

Genetics influences individuals’ response to diabetes treatment

At the heart of this study lies the revelation that an individual’s genetic makeup can significantly influence their response to diabetes treatment. Specifically, the way individuals respond to GLP-1R agonist drugs, commonly used in managing type 2 diabetes and helping weight loss, is shaped by genetic variability.

Lead researcher Prof. Inga Prokopenko articulates the significance of this discovery, stating, “This study provides us with fresh insights into the genetics of blood glucose levels. More research is needed, but in the future healthcare professionals may tailor their approach based on an individual's genetic profile when prescribing GLP-1R agonists for treating type 2 diabetes. Some DNA variants may make these drugs less effective, so personalized treatment plans could lead to better results.”

Type 2 diabetes and lung complications

Respiratory diseases are a significant cause of death, especially among people with type 2 diabetes. Patients are more likely to develop lung disorders like restrictive lung disease, fibrosis, and pneumonia. In this study, for the first time, scientists unveiled a direct causal relation between type 2 diabetes and lung problems. Elevated blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes were found to impair lung function

“Our research provides the first evidence that high blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes can directly lead to lung damage,” says Dr. Vasiliki Lagou, first author of the research paper. “We hope our discovery that impaired lung function is a complication of type 2 diabetes is the first step towards increased awareness among healthcare professionals, leading to earlier diagnosis and treatment of lung conditions.”

The role of the digestive system

Beyond the pancreas, the study underscored the indispensable role played by the gastrointestinal system in the intricate choreography of blood sugar regulation. The small intestine, ileum, and colon emerged as pivotal players in the digestion process, facilitating the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream. Furthermore, this research highlighted the profound influence of the gut microbiome, notably the involvement of specific bacteria like Collinsella and Lachnospiraceae-FCS020 in the delicate balance of glucose levels.

Dr. Ayse Demirkan, Senior Lecturer in AI Multiomics for Health and Wellbeing: “We have illuminated a less explored yet profoundly impactful aspect of glucose metabolism—your gastrointestinal tract. In addition to the pancreas, the small intestine, particularly the ileum and colon, are integral contributors to blood sugar regulation. Our study underscores the intricate relationship between glucose levels and the gut microbiome, with certain microbial species emerging as key contributors to glucose production from lactose and galactose.”