Is Diabetes Surgery Ready For Prime Time?

Although, in the end I spent less than 24 hrs in the Emirates, one of the highlights of attending the 1st International Abu Dhabi Diabetes Conference, was the opportunity to once again hear David Cummings (Seattle) speak about how bariatric surgery can lead to the remission of type 2 diabetes. Cummings’ talk certainly provided plenty of food for thought on my long flight back to Canada.

As outlined in a newly released Diabetes Surgery Position Statement published in the latest issue of the Annals of Surgery, surgical approaches may well prove to be the treatment of choice in carefully selected patients with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes and a BMI greater than 30.

While the authors of the Statement emphasize the need for more clinical trials to investigate the future role of surgery in diabetes treatment, they also call for further investigations on the mechanisms of surgical control of diabetes (which are far from being fully understood).

Although weight loss itself clearly plays a significant role in the reversal of diabetes generally seen with bariatric surgery, with gastric bypass surgery, this reversal of diabetes often precedes the weight loss and there are likely neuroendocrine consequences to allowing food to bypass the duodenum that may substantially affect glucose metabolism (including regeneration of pancreatic beta-cells).

Thus, a better understanding of exactly how gastrointestinal surgery “cures” diabetes, will hopefully also open new avenues for pharmacological treatments that can mimic the effects of surgery in these patients.

Indeed, certain gut-hormones, which are known to be dramatically affected by gastric bypass surgery (e.g. GLP-1), have already been shown to have a beneficial effect both on diabetes and weight management (e.g. liraglutide).

Health professionals who want to learn more about this topic should consider attending the upcoming First Canadian Summit Metabolic Surgery for Type 2 Diabetes to be held in partnership with the Canadian Obesity Network and the Canadian Diabetes Association at the Hôtel Le Centre Sheraton, Montréal, May 6-7, 2010.

To watch a recent episode of 60 Minutes on CBS, which features interviews with Cummings and others discussing the surgical approach to type 2 diabetes, click here.

Very much appreciate hearing from my readers on their thoughts regarding whether or not diabetes surgery (vs. lifelong medications or injections) will significantly change how we treat diabetes in the future.

Edmonton, Alberta