The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a researcher at the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University a four-year, $1.8-million grant. The recipient, Andrew Gewirtz, will use the funding to investigate intestinal bacteria contributing to obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Obesity is a condition characterized by increased body mass exceeding 30 kg/m2. In the United States, more than two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The condition reduces life expectancy and raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer.
Gut microbiota, bacteria which inhabit the intestinal tract, play a key role in the development of obesity but underlying mechanisms are still not fully understood. The grant will be used to clarify the role of gut microbiota in the development of obesity and metabolic syndrome, as prior studies illustrated a relationship between healthy bacteria deficiency in the intestine and metabolic syndrome development.
“The overall goal of the project is to understand how alterations in bacteria in the intestine can promote low-grade inflammation and metabolic diseases, including obesity,” Gewirtz said in a news release. “Additionally, we’re going to be looking at how changes in diet can protect against obesity, especially how dietary fiber can alter gut bacteria in a beneficial way.”
The final goals of the project are: 1) verification of prior findings on metabolic syndrome collected with a mice model on human subjects, and clarify the link between alterations in gut microbiota and low-grade inflammation; 2) determine the association between altered microbiota and inflammation, and methods for protecting the liver from low-grade inflammation and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; and 3) examine the link between dietary fiber and microbiota and how it could prevent obesity.
“We’re comparing different types of fiber,” Gewirtz said. “In simple terms, you could think of fiber as being insoluble, simply just passing through and providing bulk, or fiber that can be metabolized by bacteria, which is called soluble or fermentable fiber. Our preliminary results indicate that these have very different types of effects.”
“Hopefully in the end we’ll have a better understanding of what type should be consumed, for fibers that are naturally in foods or as supplements,” Gewirtz added.
Some parts of the project will be performed on mice models and others will involve human subjects in collaboration with Emory University, in Georgia.