Diabetes Changes Its Identity

Type 2 diabetes may be an autoimmune disease rather than a metabolic disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Right now, type 2 diabetes is considered a metabolic disease, or a disease that affects the process of how your body uses fuel. However, researchers have made a discovery that may change how we treat diabetes.

Looking at the results from their study, researchers are saying that type 2 diabetes may be an autoimmune disease - a disease that happens when the immune system attacks healthy tissue - rather than a metabolic disease.

They found that one of the main features of type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance) may be caused by an immune system response.

"Type 2 diabetes may be an autoimmune disease, requiring different medications."

In a study on obese mice at risk of diabetes, researchers tested a drug usually used to treat autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. They found that the drug protected the obese mice from diabetes.

This finding could lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating diabetes, the authors write. If the immune system plays a large role in type 2 diabetes, then researchers may start to explore treating diabetes with other autoimmune disease medications.

The study's authors believe these findings show how the immune system (specifically B cells) play an important role in insulin resistance - one of the key characteristics of type 2 diabetes.

In Depth

  • Daniel A. Winer, from the Department of Pathology at Stanford University, and colleagues studied how an antibody called anti-CD20 - which targets B cells in the immune system that attack healthy body tissue - would affect the risk of diabetes in obese mice
  • The researchers found that anti-CD20 (marketed as Rituxin) stopped type 2 diabetes from developing in mice with a high risk of developing the disease
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Review Date: 
April 19, 2011
Last Updated:
April 21, 2011