Do Gut Microbiomes of Hispanics/Latinos Influence Their Diabetes Risk?

NIH-funded study seeks to explain the group’s disproportionate risk of the disease

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the University of California (UC)­–San Diego have received a five-year, $3.9 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to investigate the role of the gut microbiome in the development of type-2 diabetes among Hispanics/Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population.

Hispanics in the U.S. have a 66% higher rate of diabetes than non-Hispanic whites (11.8% versus 7.1%). Because therapies can alter the microbiome in the gut, the research could lead to strategies for preventing and treating diabetes. Einstein coprincipal investigators on the grant are Robert C. Kaplan, PhD, and Robert D. Burk, MD. Rob Knight, PhD, at UC–San Diego is also a coprincipal investigator.

The human gut microbiome is composed of billions of bacteria and other microbes found in the intestines. It not only plays a major role in digestion, but recent studies show it can also increase risk for developing several different diseases, including diabetes. The makeup of a person’s gut microbiome—the number and types of different microbial species and their amounts—can be influenced by environmental factors including the foods we eat, the drugs we take, the air we breathe, and the people we live with.

“The human gut microbiome represents a promising target for dietary changes and treatments aimed at combating type-2 diabetes—particularly in groups like the Hispanic/Latino population that disproportionately develop the disease,” said Dr. Kaplan, Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health and the Dorothy and William Manealoff Foundation and Molly Rosen Chair in Social Medicine at Einstein. “Our study will test the hypothesis that specific gut microbiome compositions are associated with prediabetes and diabetes.”

The study is aimed at gathering information about the composition of gut microbiomes among Hispanics/Latinos and finding how their different makeups influence their risk for diabetes. To do so, he and his colleagues will study 2,000 participants enrolled in the Hispanic Community Health Study (HCHS)/Study of Latinos (SOL), the landmark research study of Hispanic/Latino health in the U.S., funded by the NIH.

A major focus of the study will utilize a fasting two-hour glucose tolerance test to detect diabetes or prediabetes in the HCHS/SOL participants. The researchers will look for associations between the participants’ diabetes status and their gut microbiome patterns, which will be assessed by determining the genetic composition of the total population of bacteria living within their feces.

Other aims of the study include:

  • For Hispanic/Latino individuals of diverse backgrounds and normal metabolism, identify environmental factors that may be affecting their gut microbiomes.
  • Look for associations between a person’s gut microbiome pattern and characteristics, including geographical/ancestral background (e.g., Mexican, Puerto Rican), gender, age, and body mass index.
  • Actively follow all study participants to identify those individuals who develop diabetes and estimate the relative risk that disease will develop in people with particular gut microbiome patterns.

Source: Albert Einstein College of Medicine; September 27, 2016.