While several potential causes of type 2 diabetes, including genetics and lifestyle factors, have already been discovered, scientists have now also purportedly found a link between the onset of the disease and toxins produces by a common strain of bacteria.
In research published recently in the journal mBio, experts from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine reported that experiments in which rabbits were exposed to toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria for prolonged periods of time caused the creatures to develop symptoms of diabetes like insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.
According to IFL Science, previous research has concluded that as people become increasingly obese, the number of Staphylococcus bacteria found on them increases. Based on the findings of this study, it appears that this phenomenon may play a role in the development of diabetes.
“What we are finding is that as people gain weight, they are increasingly likely to be colonized by staph bacteria – to have large numbers of these bacteria living on the surface of their skin,” lead investigator Patrick Schlievert, professor and department executive officer of microbiology at the UI Carver College of Medicine, said in a statement. “People who are colonized by staph bacteria are being chronically exposed to the superantigens the bacteria are producing.”
Neutralizing superantigens could help treat, prevent diabetes
Schlievert explained that his team’s research allowed them to essentially reproduce diabetes in rabbits by exposing them to the staph superantigen, and that the findings indicate that treatments helping to eliminate this bacteria or neutralizing the toxins they release could potentially help in the treatment or prevention of the condition.
The UI professor’s research had previously revealed that superantigens can disrupt a person’s immune system and are responsible for the life-threatening effects of sepsis, endocarditis, toxic shock syndrome, and other staph infections. These toxins interact with fat cells and the immune system to cause chronic systemic inflammation.
This inflammation, in turn, causes a person to develop insulin resistance and other symptoms characteristic of type 2 diabetes, the researchers explained. In examining the staph colonization levels of four diabetic patients, Schlievert and his co-authors found that it was likely exposure to the superantigens produced by these bacteria that caused the rabbits to develop their symptoms.
“I think we have a way to intercede here and alter the course of diabetes. We are working on a vaccine against the superantigens, and we believe that this type of vaccine could prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes,” said Schlievert. He and his colleagues are now investigating the use of a topical gel containing glycerol monolaurate, which kills staph bacteria on contact and may be able to improve blood sugar levels in those with prediabetes.