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New hope burns for diabetics

A new procedure that burns away abnormal cells in the duodenum lining is helping insulin-resistant patients control their diabetes, writes Judy Hobson

BURNING OFF abnormal cells in the lining of the duodenum allows new ones to form, and these release hormones which improve the patient’s ability to process blood sugar.

Despite trying many medications and changing their diet, patients with type 2 diabetes can still find it very difficult to manage their condition. In fact, it is estimated that less than half are able to adequately control their blood glucose levels, which puts them at increased risk of kidney failure, nerve damage, blindness, stroke and heart attack.

Of the 3.3 million people with diabetes in this country, 90 per cent, according to the charity Diabetes UK, have type 2, which is linked to being overweight.

Thanks to observing how weight-loss surgery can dramatically improve type 2 diabetes, scientists have been able to develop a new 60-minute technique to treat the condition. Using a process known as hydrothermal ablation, they can rejuvenate the lining of the patient’s duodenum, thereby altering signalling in the gut which has been shown to significantly improve the patient’s glycaemic control.

Francesco Rubino, professor of metabolic and bariatric surgery at King’s College London and a consultant surgeon at King’s College Hospital, has been investigating the link between gastrointestinal surgery and diabetes remission since the Nineties.

He says: “What we found was that within days of having surgery, sometimes even before patients were discharged from hospital, their diabetes had improved dramatically. The effect was rapid and occurred even before there was any weight loss, so we realised something else was going on.

“We conducted experiments on animals and this helped us to establish that if we bypassed the duodenum – the upper part of the small intestine – there was an effect on the diabetes.”

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