UTHealth researchers to study how gut bacteria play role in development of diabetes

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.

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