Triple discovery unveils insights into type 2 diabetes

Research illuminates profound influence of genetics on treatment response, the direct link between type 2 diabetes and reduction in lung function, and the pivotal role of the gastrointestinal tract in regulating blood sugar levels

A man with diabetes checks his blood glucose levels.
A man with diabetes checks his blood glucose levels.

Surrey, 28 September - A research team led by Prof. Inga Prokopenko (the University of Surrey) and Dr. Vasiliki Lagou (VIB-KU Leuven) unveiled three significant discoveries about type 2 diabetes. This research has illuminated the profound influence of genetics on treatment response, uncovered the direct link between type 2 diabetes and reduction in lung function, and unraveled the pivotal role of the gastrointestinal tract in regulating blood sugar levels. The study’s findings have significant implications, ranging from personalized diabetes care to early detection of lung complications. Published in Nature Genetics, this extensive research engaged nearly half a million individuals from diverse backgrounds and harnessed the collective expertise of over a hundred scientists worldwide.

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability worldwide. Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, occurs when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels. More than half a billion people live with diabetes, and in 2019, diabetes and kidney disease due to diabetes caused an estimated 2 million deaths.

Genetics influences individuals’ response to diabetes treatment

At the heart of this study lies the revelation that an individual’s genetic makeup can significantly influence their response to diabetes treatment. Specifically, the way individuals respond to GLP-1R agonist drugs, commonly used in managing type 2 diabetes and helping weight loss, is shaped by genetic variability.

Lead researcher Prof. Inga Prokopenko articulates the significance of this discovery, stating, “This study provides us with fresh insights into the genetics of blood glucose levels. More research is needed, but in the future healthcare professionals may tailor their approach based on an individual's genetic profile when prescribing GLP-1R agonists for treating type 2 diabetes. Some DNA variants may make these drugs less effective, so personalized treatment plans could lead to better results.”

Type 2 diabetes and lung complications

Respiratory diseases are a significant cause of death, especially among people with type 2 diabetes. Patients are more likely to develop lung disorders like restrictive lung disease, fibrosis, and pneumonia. In this study, for the first time, scientists unveiled a direct causal relation between type 2 diabetes and lung problems. Elevated blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes were found to impair lung function.

“Our research provides the first evidence that high blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes can directly lead to lung damage,” says Dr. Vasiliki Lagou, first author of the research paper. “We hope our discovery that impaired lung function is a complication of type 2 diabetes is the first step towards increased awareness among healthcare professionals, leading to earlier diagnosis and treatment of lung conditions.”

The role of the digestive system

Beyond the pancreas, the study underscored the indispensable role played by the gastrointestinal system in the intricate choreography of blood sugar regulation. The small intestine, ileum, and colon emerged as pivotal players in the digestion process, facilitating the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream. Furthermore, this research highlighted the profound influence of the gut microbiome, notably the involvement of specific bacteria like Collinsella and Lachnospiraceae-FCS020 in the delicate balance of glucose levels.

Dr. Ayse Demirkan, Senior Lecturer in AI Multiomics for Health and Wellbeing: “We have illuminated a less explored yet profoundly impactful aspect of glucose metabolism—your gastrointestinal tract. In addition to the pancreas, the small intestine, particularly the ileum and colon, are integral contributors to blood sugar regulation. Our study underscores the intricate relationship between glucose levels and the gut microbiome, with certain microbial species emerging as key contributors to glucose production from lactose and galactose.”


GWAS of random glucose in 476,326 individuals provide insights into diabetes pathophysiology, complications and treatment stratification. Lagou et al. Nature Genetics, 2023. DOI: 10.1038/s41588-023-01462-3

India Jane Wise

India Jane Wise

Science Communications Expert, VIB

Vragen van patiënten

Een doorbraak in onderzoek betekent niet hetzelfde als een doorbraak in de geneeskunde. De verwezenlijkingen van VIB-onderzoekers kunnen de basis vormen voor nieuwe therapieën, maar het ontwikkelingstraject neemt nog jaren in beslag. Dit kan veel vragen oproepen. Daarom vragen we u om in uw reportage of artikel te verwijzen naar het e-mailadres dat VIB hiervoor ter beschikking stelt. Iedereen kan er met vragen omtrent dit en ander medisch gericht onderzoek terecht: [email protected]. ​ ​

Over de Universiteit van Surrey

De Universiteit van Surrey is een onderzoeksintensieve instelling die vooraanstaand onderzoek verricht, uitblinkt in innovatief onderwijs en afgestudeerden produceert die zeer gewild zijn op de arbeidsmarkt.

Onze onderzoeksgebieden richten zich op duurzaamheid, waarbij we samenleving en technologie verbinden om een beter en duurzamer leven voor iedereen mogelijk te maken. We zijn ook toegewijd aan kunstmatige intelligentie, waarbij we ervoor zorgen dat deze nieuwe technologieën altijd de mens centraal blijven stellen in hun werking, ontwikkeling en governance. Daarnaast verkennen we de overlappende aspecten van menselijke en dierlijke gezondheid en zoeken we naar gemeenschappelijke oplossingen binnen een benadering van 'One Health, One Medicine'.

Onze universiteit scoort consequent hoog in onafhankelijke beoordelingen. In het meest recente Research Excellence Framework (REF2021) behaalden we een plek in de top 20 in het VK voor de algehele kwaliteit van ons onderzoek. We staan op de 9e plaats in het VK en de 46e plaats wereldwijd in de Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2023, wat onze inzet voor de Duurzame Ontwikkelingsdoelen van de VN weerspiegelt. Binnen het VK staan we op de 9e plaats in de Nationale Studenten Enquête 2022, de 13e plaats in de Complete University Guide 2024, de 22e plaats in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023, en de 24e plaats in The Guardian University Guide 2023.


About VIB

VIB’s core mission is to generate disruptive insights in the molecular underpinning of life and to translate these actively into impactful innovations for patients and society. VIB is an independent research institute where some 1,800 top scientists from Belgium and abroad conduct pioneering basic research. As such, they are pushing the boundaries of what we know about molecular mechanisms and how they rule living organisms such as human beings, animals, plants, and microorganisms. Based on a close partnership with five Flemish universities – Ghent University, KU Leuven, University of Antwerp, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and Hasselt University – and supported by a solid funding program, VIB unites the expertise of all its collaborators and research groups in a single institute. VIB’s technology transfer activities translate research results into concrete benefits for society such as new diagnostics and therapies and agricultural innovations. These applications are often developed by young start-ups from VIB or through collaborations with other companies. This also leads to additional employment and bridges the gap between scientific research and entrepreneurship. VIB also engages actively in the public debate on biotechnology by developing and disseminating a wide range of science-based information. 

More info can be found on