Misdiagnosing MODY Diabetes Can Accelerate Beta Cell Destruction

Studies suggest that treating people with MODY diabetes as if they had Type 2 can lead to a rapid worsening of the condition.

MODY is Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Young, a form of diabetes that affects 1 percent to 2 percent of those with diabetes. MODY develops before age 25 and is genetically passed from one generation to the next. All children of a parent with MODY have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the gene and being affected by MODY themselves. MODY often goes unrecognized or misdiagnosed as Type 2 diabetes because the two share symptoms. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, the condition does not always require insulin therapy and does not usually initially require insulin therapy upon diagnosis.

Research published this year in The Journal of Biological Chemistry has shown that some Type 2 diabetes treatments can be harmful to those with MODY. Type 2 diabetes drugs can lead to the destruction of insulin-secreting beta cells that regulate blood sugar in people with MODY diabetes, according to research conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine. While most patients with MODY transition from oral medications to insulin injections within 10 years of diagnosis, the new research suggests that beginning with oral medications can “rev up” the beta cells, which can accelerate that timeline.

“People diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are treated with oral medications that make insulin-secreting beta cells very active,” said lead study author Benjamin D. Moore in a Washington University news release. “Stimulating those cells with those drugs can lead to beta cell death. That means these patients can become dependent on insulin injections much sooner.”

Research is underway to explore new treatments that could be geared specifically towards treating MODY diabetes. However, the Washington University study makes clear that it’s important that doctors correctly identify the disorder before initiating treatment.

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Kate Doughty is a third-year student at the University of Virginia, where she is studying English with an area concentration in literary prose.

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