Charron, Maureen , PhD
Early life exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: metabolic perturbations and epigenetic biomarkers
General Research Subject: Obesity
Focus: Obesity\Pathogenesis, Pediatrics\Obesity, Pediatrics\Type 2
Type of Grant: Clinical Science and Epidemiology
Project Start Date: January 1, 2013
Project End Date: December 31, 2015
Metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes are modern day epidemics. Early life exposure to an adverse developmental environment, including environmental toxicants, is linked to increased susceptibility to obesity, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Although the mechanisms underlying the fetal origins of metabolic disease are poorly understood, strong evidence suggests that alterations in the epigenome play a critical role in this process. The central hypothesis of this proposal is that intrauterine exposure to benzo[a]pyrene leads to epigenetic changes which will have functional consequences and may be a marker for, or may contribute to, increased susceptibility to adverse outcomes in childhood including increased adiposity and the subsequent development of obesity, metabolic syndrome or diabetes.
The goals of this proposal are to: 1) recruit 100 mother-baby pairs of subjects, 2) determine benzo[a]pyrene levels in umbilical cord blood of newborns, 3) determine whether benzo[a]pyrene exposure during pregnancy correlates with early onset of obesity and metabolic disease by examining the children at 12 and 24 months of age, 4) determine whether in utero benzo[a]pyrene exposure programs metabolic disease through alterations in DNA methylation and gene expression, and 5) determine the plasticity of the DNA methylation patterns in the same offspring at 12 months of age. The long-term goal of this project is to define biomarkers that identify neonates at "high-risk" for diminished attainment of full health potential, who can then be targeted for preventative measures.
What area of diabetes research does your project cover? What role will this particular project play in preventing, treating, and curing diabetes?
This project evaluates the interaction between genetics and environmental toxicants during early life increase one's chance of developing metabolic disease early in life. In particular we are studying how fetal exposure to benzo[a]pyrene,a toxicant prevalent in the air we breathe and food we eat, may alter DNA methylation and gene expression variation in cells present in our blood in a way that provides a bio-signature of diabetes susceptibility.
Since the diagnosis of metabolic diseases in children has increased dramatically and epigenetics has been shown to contribute to their incidence and transmission, there is an urgent need to identify and validate the use of pure populations of readily obtainable cells that would contain epigenomic changes that reflect such early life exposures informative for assessing health. The long-term goal of this project is to define biomarkers that identify neonates at "high-risk" for diminished attainment of full health potential, who can then be targeted for preventative measures.
If a person with diabetes were to ask you how your project will help them in the future, how would you respond??
If a person with diabetes were to ask me how this research project would help them in the future I would respond by saying: We will identify biomarkers of diabetes risk that can be screened from a simple blood draw that could used used to prevent development of metabolic disease including diabetes in their children.
Perhaps one of the most alarming statistics is that the incidence of childhood obesity and diabetes has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. The contribution of environmental toxicants to these epidemics is incontrovertible, thus, the time is now to think about how the diabetes research community can act on this knowledge and use it to change the poor trajectory that we are on. Children are our future and we hope to make that future brighter for all children, including the children of diabetics.
Why is it important for you, personally, to become involved in diabetes research? What role will this award play in your efforts?
My passion for diabetes research and prevent began during my childhood my mother lived with the daily challenges of diabetes its long term complications. As a scientist I have embraced the challenge of understanding the molecular basis underlying diabetes and worked towards achieving outcomes that will improve the lives the the many people touched by diabetes. The American Diabetes Association has supported every stage of my research career. Recently my research has moved towards translational diabetes research.
This award enables me and my clinical colleagues to pursue a project aimed at recruiting newborn babies and setting the groundwork for identifying diagnostic biomarkers of early life exposure to environmental toxicants that alter our epigenome and increase the risk for precocious development of metabolic disease. The results of this study could be a 'game changer' as it has the potential to prevent, rather than treat, diabetes through early diagnosis and intervention programs.
In what direction do you see the future of diabetes research going?
I believe diabetes research is moving more towards multidisciplinary approaches that join the talents of clinicians and scientists to achieve novel strategies for early diagnosis and prevention of diabetes.
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