Diabetes is actually not one or two, but five separate diseases, scientists say. This means a specific form of treatment could be specially made for each kind.
The disease is normally classified into just two: type 1 and type 2 diabetes. But researchers in Finland and Sweden say that there is a more complex picture, and that the results of their study will usher in a new period of personalized medications, the BBC reports.
Type 1 diabetes affects the immune system, wherein the body’s insulin making cells are attacked, leading to less control of blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is basically when body fat affects the way insulin works.
The researchers at Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden and the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland examined 14,775 patients and their blood, conducting detailed analyses. Their results showed that the patients could be divided in five different clusters.
Cluster 1 is severe autoimmune diabetes, generally similar to type 1. Diabetes here hit when patients were young and appeared healthy, but had an immune disease that left them unable to produce insulin.
Cluster 2 are severely insulin-deficient patients who were likewise young and healthy, and struggled with insulin, but the cause was not immune system failure.
Cluster 3 are severely insulin-resistant diabetics who were generally overweight and are making insulin, but their bodies no longer respond to it.
Cluster 4 are the patients with mild, obesity-related diabetes who are closer to those in cluster 3 in terms of insulin production.
Cluster 5 are patients with mild, age-related diabetes who developed symptoms at a late age, hence diabetes was not as severe.
Leif Groop, one of the researchers, said,
This is extremely important, we’re taking a real step towards precision medicine. In the ideal scenario, this is applied at diagnosis and we target treatment better.
Other scientists say that this is only the first step, and that there is a need to know more about these sub-types of diabetes in order to begin more specialized treatments for diabetics.
The study was published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.