Helping prevent or treat type 2 diabetes may someday become a mattter of anti-bacterial therapy or vaccines, findings suggest.

A new study by microbiologists at University of Iowa found that prolonged exposure to a specific toxin made by staph bacteria (Staphylococcus aureuscauses) causes lab rabbits to develop symptoms of Type 2 diabetes, including glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, and systemic inflammation.

Project leader professor Patrick Schlievert, PhD, said: “We basically reproduced Type 2 diabetes in rabbits simply through chronic exposure to the staph superantigen.”

It’s not a totally unprecedented hypothesis; bacteria have also been identified as the unusual cause of other illnesses, including cervical cancer (Human papilloma virus) and stomach ulcers (H. pylori bacteria).

The findings bring the possibility that therapies targetted at eliminating staph bacteria or neutralizing the superantigens might have potential for preventing or treating Type 2 diabetes.

One known risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes, obesity, also alters a person’s microbiome (the ecosystem of bacteria that colonize our bodies and affect our health).

“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,” Schlievert says. “People who are colonized by staph bacteria are being chronically exposed to the superantigens the bacteria are producing.”

The team also is researching usage of a topical gel that contains glycerol monolaurate. The compound kills staph bacteria on contact, and may be one approach to eliminate staph bacteria from human skin.

Illustration: Molecular model of the insulin molecule. Credit T.Blundell & N Campillo, Wellcome Images

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