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UTHealth awarded $3.1 million NIH grant to study how gut bacteria relates to diabetes

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

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IMAGE: This is Craig Hanis, Ph.D., principal investigator of the project. view more 

Credit: Terry Vine

HOUSTON - (Oct. 6, 2017) - A team of researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health has received a $3.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how gut bacteria play a role in the development of diabetes among residents of Starr County, Texas.

"This project is a continuation of our efforts to understand those factors that lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes and its complications among the Mexican-American population of Starr County," said Craig Hanis, Ph.D., one of the principal investigators of the study and professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health.

Hanis has been researching possible explanations for the high rates of diabetes among Starr County residents since 1981. In the new study, his team will examine how bacteria in the gut, called the microbiome, may play a role in contributing to the development of diabetes.

"Bacteria in the gut are particularly important in the context of diabetes as they help us digest the foods we eat and carry out a number of fundamental metabolic processes," said Hanis, who is also a member of the Human Genetics Center at the School of Public Health. "It is known that the profiles of bacteria in the gut of those with diabetes differ from those without. It is also known that the profile of bacteria in the gut changes with different treatments for diabetes. What is not known is whether the changes that are seen precede the development of diabetes or if they are the consequences of diabetes."

The five-year study of Starr County residents will recruit 600 participants who do not have Type 2 diabetes, 300 of whom will have prediabetes. At the end of the study, researchers will determine which microbiome profiles predicted the development of Type 2 diabetes and how the microbiome changes after the onset of diabetes.

Eric Brown, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences and member of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the School of Public Health, is also a principal investigator on the project. Goo Jun, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences and member of the Human Genetics Center, is also a part of the School of Public Health research team. Joseph Petrosino, Ph.D., and Nadim Ajami, Ph.D., from Baylor College of Medicine, are key collaborating investigators.

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Funding for the study was granted through the NIH's Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (1R01DK116378-01).

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