For the past 12 years, Meredith Hawkins, MD, MS, Founding Director of Einstein’s Global Diabetes Institute, has spearheaded an international collaborative effort aimed at finding the underlying metabolic defects that lead to malnutrition-related diabetes — a crucial step toward finding effective treatments. In the first comprehensive study of individuals with this poorly understood disease, Dr. Hawkins and colleagues have shown that malnutrition-related diabetes is significantly different metabolically from T1D and T2D and should be considered a distinct type of diabetes. Their findings were published June 2 in Diabetes Care.
Research Reveals Secrets of Baffling but All-Too-Common Type of Diabetes
A mysterious form of diabetes known as malnutrition-related diabetes afflicts tens of millions of people in Asian and sub-Saharan African countries. Its victims — mainly thin and impoverished adolescents and young adults — rarely live more than a year after diagnosis. Their young age and thinness suggest type 1 diabetes (T1D), but insulin injections usually don’t help and can even cause death from low blood sugar. Nor do patients seem to have type 2 diabetes (T2D), which is typically associated with obesity. The disease was first described nearly 70 years ago, yet lack of research into the condition means that doctors are still unsure how to treat it.
Current scientific literature offers no guidance on managing malnutrition-related diabetes, which is rare in high-income nations but exists in more than 60 low- and middle-income countries. The doctors in those countries read Western medical journals, so they don’t learn about malnutrition-related diabetes and don’t suspect it in their patients. We hope our findings will increase awareness of this disease, which is so devastating to so many people, and will pave the way for effective treatment strategies.
We used highly sophisticated techniques to rigorously and carefully study these individuals — and our conclusions differ from earlier clinical observations.