- Link between prolonged exposure to Staphylococcus aureus and condition
- S.aureus causes common skin infections, food poisoning and MRSA
- Found in high quantities in the guts of people who are obese
- Toxins produced by bacteria trigger the symptoms of type 2 diabetes
Bacteria responsible for common skin infections, food poisoning and MRSA could also trigger one of the most prevalent diseases of our time – type 2 diabetes. Researchers in the US discovered exposure to Staphylococcus aureus bacteria causes hallmark symptoms of the disease in rabbits.
They hope their findings will help pave the way for new anti-bacterial therapies or vaccines to prevent or treat type 2 diabetes.
In 2012, an estimated 1.5 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes, according to the World Health Organisation.
Type 2 diabetes comprises 90 per cent of all people with diabetes, the WHO adds. Scientists at the University of Iowa found that prolonged exposure to a toxin produced by the S.aureus bacteria causes rabbits to develop insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and systemic inflammation.
Professor Patrick Schlievert, who led the study, said: ‘We basically reproduced type 2 diabetes in rabbits simply through chronic exposure to the staph superantigen. The findings suggest that therapies aimed at eliminating staph bacteria might prove a potential treatment for the condition.
Obesity is a known risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. But being obese can also alter a person’s microbiome – the ecosystem of bacteria that colonise a person’s gut, and affect their health. Professor Schlievert said: ‘What we are finding is that as people gain weight, they are increasingly likely to be colonised by staph bacteria – to have large numbers of these bacteria living on the surface of their skin.
‘People who are colonised by staph bacteria are being chronically exposed to the superantigens the bacteria are producing.’
Professor Schlievert’s past research has shown that superantigens – the toxins produced by all strains of staph bacteria – disrupt the immune system. The are also responsible for the deadly effects of various staph infections, such as toxic shock syndrome, sepsis and endocarditis.
His team’s latest study shows the toxins interact with fat cells and the immune system to cause chronic systemic inflammation.
It is this inflammation, the researchers said, that results in insulin resistance and other symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Researchers examined the levels of staph colonisation on the skin of four patients with diabetes.
They estimate that exposure to the bacterial superantigens for people who are heavily colonised by staph is proportional to the doses of superantigen that caused the rabbits to develop symptoms of diabetes. Professor Schlievert, said: ‘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.’ The team is also investigating the use of a topical gel containing glycerol monolaurate, which kills staph bacteria on contact, as an approach to eliminate the bacteria from human skin. They plan to test whether this approach will improve blood sugar levels in patients with prediabetes. The study was published in the journal mBio.
Published: 3 June 2015 By LIZZIE PARRY
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