Precision subclassification of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review

Commun Med (Lond). 2023 Oct 5;3(1):138. doi: 10.1038/s43856-023-00360-3.


Background: Heterogeneity in type 2 diabetes presentation and progression suggests that precision medicine interventions could improve clinical outcomes. We undertook a systematic review to determine whether strategies to subclassify type 2 diabetes were associated with high quality evidence, reproducible results and improved outcomes for patients.

Methods: We searched PubMed and Embase for publications that used 'simple subclassification' approaches using simple categorisation of clinical characteristics, or 'complex subclassification' approaches which used machine learning or 'omics approaches in people with established type 2 diabetes. We excluded other diabetes subtypes and those predicting incident type 2 diabetes. We assessed quality, reproducibility and clinical relevance of extracted full-text articles and qualitatively synthesised a summary of subclassification approaches.

Results: Here we show data from 51 studies that demonstrate many simple stratification approaches, but none have been replicated and many are not associated with meaningful clinical outcomes. Complex stratification was reviewed in 62 studies and produced reproducible subtypes of type 2 diabetes that are associated with outcomes. Both approaches require a higher grade of evidence but support the premise that type 2 diabetes can be subclassified into clinically meaningful subtypes.

Conclusion: Critical next steps toward clinical implementation are to test whether subtypes exist in more diverse ancestries and whether tailoring interventions to subtypes will improve outcomes.

Plain language summary

In people with type 2 diabetes there may be differences in the way people present, including for example, their symptoms, body weight or how much insulin they make. We looked at recent publications describing research in this area to see whether it is possible to separate people with type 2 diabetes into different subgroups and, if so, whether these groupings were useful for patients. We found that it is possible to group people with type 2 diabetes into different subgroups and being in one subgroup can be more strongly linked to the likelihood of developing complications over others. This might mean that in the future we can treat people in different subgroups differently in ways that improves their treatment and their health but it requires further study.