Diabetes Research Focuses Heavily On Treatments, Not Prevention, Study Finds

04/07/2013 11:28 am ET

When it comes to researching diabetes, are our priorities in order?

According to a Duke University study, diabetes research emphasizes drug therapies more than preventive measures to combat the disease. The current research also tends to leave out older adults and children, who could benefit substantially from better disease management.

The findings, published in the journal Diabetologia, suggest that current research efforts may not sufficiently study diabetes prevention, management or therapeutic safety.

The authors of the study examined nearly 2,500 diabetes-related trials from 2007 to 2010. They found that of the 2,484 trials correlated with diabetes, 75 percent emphasized diabetes treatment while only 10 percent were conducted to examine preventive measures. Sixty-three percent of the trials involved a drug and 12 percent involved behavioral tests.

“It’s important that clinical trials enroll patients who are representative of populations affected by diabetes and its complications,” study researcher Dr. Jennifer Green, M.D, an associate professor at Duke University School of Medicine and a member of the Duke Clinical Research Institute, explained in a statement. “Our study is just a snapshot in time, but it can serve as a guide for where we need to focus attention and resources.”

The study also found that most clinical trials assessed small numbers of patients in a constrained number of locations. Many trials took only two years to complete and did not seem to exhibit a geographical mix of diabetes patients.

Type 2 diabetes risk is highest for adults and seniors, but the rate of the condition among kids and teens is also increasing. Yet the study found that older people were not included in 31 percent of the trials. In fact, older individuals were only the core of 1 percent of the trials. Furthermore, only 4 percent of the trials focused on diabetes in people age 18 and younger.

Green believes that excluding certain individuals from these trials means that the research can’t necessarily apply to them. “We really don’t understand how best to manage disease in these patients –- particularly among patients of advanced age," she said in the statement. "So the exclusion of them from most studies and the small number of trials that specifically enroll older individuals is problematic.”

The findings apply to the 25.8 million adults and children -- more than 8 percent of the U.S. population -- who are currently living with diabetes.

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