The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a two-year, $300,000 Bench-to-Bedside grant to epidemiologist Chandra Jackson, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Social and Environmental Determinants of Health Equity research group. Jackson will use the funding to study how multiple metabolites, or products of metabolism, are linked with type 2 diabetes in a racially diverse population.
Jackson, a Stadtman Tenure-Track Investigator who joined the Epidemiology Branch in 2017, is the first NIEHS researcher in more than a decade to receive this award. She holds a joint appointment with the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Her earlier work was recognized with the Ernest E. Just Prize.
Health disparities in diabetes
“This will be among the largest prospective studies aiming to identify novel metabolite signatures for type 2 diabetes in two racial groups,” Jackson said. Processes related to development of type 2 diabetes are known to involve metabolic changes.
“We are thrilled that Dr. Jackson has received this award so she can expand her health disparities research to include mechanistic pathways,” said Dale Sandler, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch and lead researcher for the Sister Study(https://sisterstudy.niehs.nih.gov/English/index1.htm).
Sister Study offers opportunity
Jackson is using data from the Sister Study, which is a long-term study of more than 50,000 women from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico who have a sister diagnosed with breast cancer. Researchers look at a range of health indicators and diseases among participants.
Jackson’s approach integrates metabolomics into the population-based study. “The archived serum and plasma samples, combined with rich data on diet, lifestyle, and physical and social environments, offer an unprecedented opportunity to address my proposed aims in an extremely cost-effective and timely manner,” Jackson explained.
She hopes that studying metabolites will illuminate differences in biological pathways leading to type 2 diabetes, and whether those pathways differ by racial groups. New understanding may lead to personalized strategies to diagnose, prevent, or treat this chronic disease while addressing health disparities.
“We are pleased that the Sister Study will help address a health concern that is especially important for black women,” Sandler added. “The data generated in Dr. Jackson’s study should expand research opportunities within the Sister Study group.”
Jackson explained that her study will analyze samples from participants when they enrolled in the study, which is referred to as baseline. Researchers will look at metabolites and groups of metabolites that increase or decrease together in connection with various factors. “We will determine the amount of overlap in metabolites associated with development of type 2 diabetes among both blacks and whites,” she said.
Current research suggests that certain metabolites can predict type 2 diabetes. However, no metabolomics studies have looked at associations between disease risk and upstream environmental as well as behavioral factors like diet and sleep.
Jackson’s project will evaluate whether blood serum biomarkers of insulin sensitivity and inflammation are involved in the development of type 2 diabetes in both racial groups. If the team finds such connections, they will study whether dietary and lifestyle factors played a role.
Promoting translational science
Established in 1999, the mission of the Bench-to-Bedside program is to support research teams that seek to use scientific findings to develop interventions for patients and to increase understanding of important disease processes.
As a team-focused award, the Bench-to-Bedside program provides funding for collaborations on small innovative projects. Jackson will collaborate with Frank Hu, M.D., Ph.D., from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
(Simone Otto, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the NIEHS Ion Channel Physiology Group.)