Can diverse gut bacteria help protect against type 2 diabetes?

24th June 2020 – Paz Garcia

Gut bacteria could be key players when it comes to reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes, according to new research from TwinsUK.

The team, led by Dr Cristina Menni from the Department of Twin Research, identified six molecules produced by gut bacteria that appear to play a role in type 2 diabetes risk.

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body is no longer able to respond appropriately to insulin, which the body needs to process glucose. If untreated, this leads to high levels of glucose in the bloodstream.

Previous research found a link between type 2 diabetes and low gut microbiome diversity, but the cause was unclear. In this study, the team investigated whether molecules – known as metabolites – produced by the gut bacteria could be the reason for this link.

The team studied microbiome and blood glucose data collected from 1,018 TwinsUK participants, and then checked their findings by analysing an additional cohort from the USA.

The researchers found that two metabolites that correlated with higher microbiome diversity have previously been linked to lower rates of type 2 diabetes.

One of the metabolites that correlated with lower microbiome diversity however is thought to have a role in insulin resistance, a key feature of type 2 diabetes.

Dr Cristina Menni explained the implications of the study’s results:

“Our findings help us understand how exactly gut bacteria may help or hinder us when it comes to type 2 diabetes. We know that we can change our gut bacteria – and so the metabolites produced – by altering our diet.

“What’s potentially exciting about our results is that they imply that it may be possible to reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes by changing your diet to change your gut bacteria in order to reduce the harmful metabolites and increase the protective ones.

“Moving forward, clinical studies should investigate the metabolites identified and determine whether modifying these molecules through diet could help reduce or monitor type 2 diabetes.

Menni et al. Serum metabolites reflecting gut microbiome alpha diversity predict type 2 diabetes. Gut Microbes, 2020.

Life after death? Measuring metabolism beyond the grave

5th March 2019

Back of a person wearing a high visibility yellow jacket with police written on it

Researchers have provided early evidence for a new method that could help forensic scientists determine time of death more accurately in criminal investigations.   

The team found that the levels of certain molecules in organs such as the heart, kidney and liver in mice change in particular patterns after death.  

These patterns could one day be used by forensic investigators to work out more accurately when someone died, according to the researchers. 

The studyled by Dr Marina Mora-Ortiz, Research Associate in the Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology of King’s College London, was published today in Metabolomics. 

Why did they do this research?

Although rare, it’s not always possible to work out when exactly someone has died.  

Forensic scientists for example working on criminal investigations have to rely on a number of different physical tests and checks to estimate time of death. 

In 2016, researchers were surprised to find that hundreds of genes actually increase their activity in the days after death.  

Dr Mora-Ortiz and her colleagues therefore decided to see whether there are also changes in the levels of certain molecules involved in metabolism – known as metabolites –  in the body after death.  

What did they do?

The team studied the heart, kidney, liver, spleen, skin and fat of 10 mice at three different time points after death, up to 24 hours. 

The researchers used a powerful technique known as NMR spectroscopy to determine the levels of certain metabolites in each of these body parts. 

What did they find?

The team identified 43 metabolites linked with post-mortem changes.  

The spleen, heart and kidneys had the most changes in metabolite levels over the 24-hour period.  

The liver and skin however were less affected, which suggests that these organs are more resistant to degradation after death. 

What does this mean?

These results are early evidence that the NMR spectroscopy technique could be used to help analyse changes in organs after death, and one day help forensics teams in their investigations.  

In the future, doctors could also use this method to check the quality of donated organs in more detail, and so improve outcomes for transplant recipients. 

Dr Mora-Ortiz explained:  

We think NMR metabolomics has a great potential to study post-mortem changes, but we need further studies to complete the whole picture and understand what is happening beyond the first 24 hours.  

This proof-of concept work opens the doors to a new field of research, Thanatometabolomics, that could be employed – paradoxically – to improve the lives of people.”  

What’s the next step?

As this work was carried out in mice, the next step will be to see if the same method can accurately capture changes in metabolites and time of death in humans. 

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