Microbiome holds big clues

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Throughout National Diabetes Month, we will be sharing insights into Joslin’s innovations in care for diabetes and its complications as part of our mission of preventing, treating and curing diabetes. Our vision is a world free of diabetes and its complications.

This week, learn about the integrative approach to diabetes research and care at Joslin — how genes and cells communicate, what goes wrong in diabetes, and how to promote and restore health.

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With bacteria numbering in the trillions, the microbiome comprises more than 1,000 different bacterial species that live in our gut.

At Joslin, researchers are striving to unmask their role in obesity, inflammation and diabetes. Suzanne Devkota, Ph.D. (above right), focuses on how various diets alter the balance of gut bacteria.
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“High-fat diets have a profound impact on the microbiome, often leading to inflammation,” she says. Among other questions: Does the overuse of bacteria-killing sanitizers or antibiotics in children set the stage for autoimmune diseases?

In these conditions, the immune system is poorly educated and can attack itself. An imbalance in the gut bacteria may be triggering the immune response that destroys the
insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leading to type 1 diabetes.

“The microbiome also might be a big contributor to type 2 diabetes,” says C. Ronald Kahn, M.D. (above left), Chief Academic Officer, who focuses on how alterations in insulin receptors cause insulin resistance.
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“By using different strains of mice, we’re seeing that genetic background interacts with the microbiome and diet to produce obesity and diabetes. This is exactly what happens in humans where these gut bacteria may grow and work differently in different people and are influenced by diet. Gut bacteria not only can lead to inflammation but also modify metabolism, changing how and what nutrients are absorbed and creating signals throughout the body. Once we determine which bacteria are harmful and which are helpful, we can look for ways to fix it.”
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Check back on Wednesday to find out about how researchers at Joslin have uncovered some ways in which exercise works to make you healthier on a molecular level.

Photo credit: John Soares

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