A research study spearheaded by clinical researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar (WCM-Q) has shown for the first time that type-2 diabetes can be reversed in those originating from the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.
The internationally competitive work is the first intensive lifestyle intervention trial in the Mena region and the first clinical trial in primary care in Qatar. The clinical trial demonstrated significant weight loss as well as reversal of type 2 diabetes in more than 60% of intervention participants.
Led by Dr Shahrad Taheri, professor of medicine at WCM-Q and a consultant endocrinologist at Hamad Medical Corporation and the Qatar Metabolic Institute, the research team conducted a randomised control trial, comparing the effects of the best medical care for diabetes with intensive lifestyle intervention therapy that included dietary change, physical activity, and behaviour change.
The study participants were younger adults who had all been diagnosed with diabetes within the previous three years. They were all aged between 18 and 50 and had a body mass index (BMI) of 27kg/m² or more. Participants were randomly placed into the control group or the intensive intervention group.
Individuals in the intervention group underwent a total diet replacement phase, in which the participants were given formula low-energy meal replacement products followed by the gradual reintroduction of food combined with physical activity support. This was in conjunction with a weight loss maintenance phase that involved structured lifestyle support.
Participants in the control group received the best currently available diabetes care based on clinical guidelines.
The results were highly significant with participants in the intervention group losing about 12kg on average after 12 months, compared with about 4kg in the control group.
Most importantly, almost two thirds (61%) of participants in the intervention group saw their diabetes go into remission, meaning that their blood sugars were no longer in the diabetes range. Finally, over one third of participants in the intervention group saw their blood sugar levels return completely to normal.
The research is of such importance for its impact on health that it has been published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology medical journal, one of the world’s leading medical journals. This is the highest impact health publication in which a clinical research study conducted in Qatar has been published. Dr Taheri said: “This study was highly significant, proving for the first time the benefits of an intensive lifestyle intervention for patients with diabetes originating from 13 different countries in the Mena region.
“It is also the first time that a health study originating and conducted in Qatar has featured, because of its high clinical value, in such a prestigious publication as The Lancet.
Our study shows that it is possible to reverse diabetes in young individuals with type 2 diabetes. We can now take this directly into the clinic in Qatar and make a difference to people’s lives.
The study, entitled ‘Effect of intensive lifestyle intervention on bodyweight and glycaemia in early type 2 diabetes (DIADEM-I): an open-label, parallel-group, randomised controlled trial’ was funded by Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF – NPRP 8-912-3-192), a member of Qatar Foundation.
Dr Abdul Sattar al-Taie, executive director of Qatar National Research Fund said: “Funding research which promotes the healthcare of the citizens of Qatar is one of the cornerstones of our mission at Qatar National Research Fund. Type 2 diabetes and its spread in the Middle East is a matter of high concern which requires research that focus on the local populations and conditions.”
“Therefore, I am very glad to learn that QNRF funding has resulted in such a significant research project with positive implications for the Qatari people and all affected by type 2 diabetes.
Such research projects which focus on the local populations will be helpful in developing effective and specialised treatments to help people with type 2 diabetes in Qatar and the region.”
Dr Javaid Sheikh, dean of WCM-Q, said: “Given that diabetes is so prevalent within Middle Eastern populations, this study has the potential to help tens of thousands of people, improving their quality of life and enhancing their life expectancy.
“Not only that, but by revolutionising the way type 2 diabetes is treated in Qatar, we could see more people reverse diabetes, removing the need for lifelong medical care and so improving health budgets.
“It is testament to what can be achieved when different organisations collaborate, in this case WCM-Q has worked in partnership with QNRF, Qatar Foundation, the Primary Health Care Corporation, Hamad Medical Corporation and Qatar Diabetes Association, Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, and Cornell University in the US to achieve remarkable results.
“It also clearly demonstrates that the funding and infrastructure that has been put in place by Qatar’s leadership is bearing fruit and that the country is a Middle Eastern hub for clinical science and research.”
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