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 patients 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 (HMC) and the Qatar Metabolic Institute, the research team conducted a randomized 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.

Lifestyle Medicine cover image WCMQ

The study participants were younger adults from 13 countries in MENA, diagnosed with diabetes within the previous three years. They were all between 18 and 50 years old 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 12 kg 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.

Dr Taheri said the study was highly significant, proving for the first time the benefits of an intensive lifestyle intervention for patients with diabetes. 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, randomized controlled trial’ was funded by Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), a member of Qatar Foundation. You can access the full text through this LINK.

According to QNRF Executive Director Dr Abdul Sattar Al-Taie, funding research which promotes the healthcare of the citizens of Qatar is one of the cornerstones of their mission.

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.

Dr Al-Taie said he is 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. He said that 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.

WCM-Q Dean Dr Javaid Sheikh also praised the research.

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.

Dr Sheikh added that 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 consequently improving health budgets. He said that the study is a testament to what can be achieved when different organisations collaborate.

For this research, WCM-Q has worked in partnership with QNRF, Qatar Foundation, the Primary Health Care Corporation, HMC and Qatar Diabetes Association, Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, and Cornell University in the US.

Dr Sheikh also emphasised how the funding and infrastructure that has been put in place by Qatar’s leadership is bearing fruit, making the country a Middle Eastern hub for clinical science and research.

For more information about WCM-Q and their research programmes, visit qatar-weill.cornell.edu