A Bacteria in the Gut May Predict Type 1 Diabetes
Ningwen Tai, Ph.D. – Yale University
Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease caused by body’s white blood cells inappropriately attacking the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. The confused white blood cells are called autoreactive T cells. We know that both genetics and the environment are important factors that determine whether people develop type 1 diabetes. Over the last 20 years, T1D has steadily increased in the United States and worldwide, and this rapid increase cannot be explained by changes in genes, and is likely to be due to changes in the environment.
We and other scientists discovered that gut bacteria contribute to the development of T1D. The varieties of gut bacteria in diabetic children and those at high risk of developing diabetes are very different from those of healthy individuals. Using an animal model of T1D, we recently found that some of the gut bacteria share similar molecular markers with insulin-producing beta cells in pancreas. The presence of these bacteria can stimulate the autoreactive T cells to mistakenly attack insulin-producing beta cells. One group of these diabetes-inducing bacteria is called Fusobacteria. We found more Fusobacteria in diabetic mice and the number of Fusobacteria increased as mice approached onset of diabetes. We hypothesize that Fusobacteria are associated with human T1D. If our hypothesis is correct, we may be able to use the quantity of Fusobacteria present in the gut to predict and monitor the time of diabetes development in individuals who are prone to the disease.
To test our hypothesis, I will collaborate with physicians who will provide me with human oral and fecal samples from T1D patients, individuals at high risk for developing T1D and healthy individuals. Fusobacteria are commonly found in the mouth and intestine in very small numbers. We will use advanced technology to estimate the number of Fusobacteria in the samples collected at different times within a year or longer. The goal of this research project is to show whether an increase of Fusobacteria is correlated with diabetes onset. If my hypothesis is correct, this approach can help doctors to predict the process of diabetes development, and potentially prevent the individuals who are at risk from developing the disease. This will not only benefit public health but also reduce the physical, psychological and financial burden to the people who may develop diabetes.
Hello, my name is Ningwen Tai and I am an Associate Research Scientist at Yale Diabetes Center, a well known facility that introduced the first successful studies of insulin pump technology in the 1970’s, and is now directing its research towards understanding the cellular mechanisms underlying type 2 diabetes and the immunological basis of T1D.
I grew up in a small village in the rural area of East China. During college, I realized I wanted to go into research and I had a special interest in biomedical sciences after completing my masters and Ph.D. degrees. I know research is not an easy path, but I like the challenge and want to make my contribution to improve human health. I graduated from East China Normal University. In 2008, I joined Dr. Li Wen’s laboratory at Yale Diabetes Center to pursue diabetes research.
I have always been passionate in finding a cure for diabetes. My grandfather died from the complications of diabetes. One of my cousins developed T1D when she was a teenager. Furthermore, my mother has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes for many years and she is dealing with high blood glucose levels every day. These have compelled me to put all my heart in fighting with this disease. After spending many years in basic scientific research and learning complex technologies in molecular biology and biochemistry, I decided to focus on diabetes and try to find a cure to save those I love the most and all others who are suffering from the disease.