The Beatson Foundation awarded assistant professor of biology Emrah Altindis a two-year, $275,000 grant to support his lab’s research on how gut microbes affect Type 1 diabetes. The grant is only awarded to five U.S. research teams each year.
“We don’t have so many satisfactions in life,” Altindis said. “But getting this grant is something that [makes] you feel good about your research because some reviewers think that it is worth it to be supported.”
According to Altindis, one of the main functions of the immune system is distinguishing what is self from what is not. A healthy immune system attacks foreign pathogens without hurting its own cells. If there is any dysregulation in the body, the immune system begins to ambush its cells, creating an autoimmune disease such as Type 1 diabetes.
“So Type 1 diabetes is a chronic lifelong autoimmune disease that is mostly diagnosed during childhood or adolescence,” Altindis said. “And once you have this disease, you will have it for [your] whole life. … However, we have no idea about the trigger of the disease.”
In 2016, Altindis said he began to research whether gut microbes, or gut microbiota, could be a trigger for Type 1 diabetes, as many people with autoimmune diseases have different types of gut bacteria from those who are not immunocompromised.
“All living organisms are surrounded by different bacteria and are believed to have one kilogram of bacteria in their gut,” Altindis said. “But those that are immunocompromised have a different gut composition compared to those with a healthy gut composition.”
According to Altindis, his BC research team is exploring the root cause of why those with Type 1 diabetes have different types of gut microbes from those who do not have the disease.
“But the question is, is it egg or chicken?” Altindis said. “Like do they have a different microbiota because they are sick or they get sick because they have a different gut microbiota?”
Altindis’s lab is researching this question by isolating a protein called HPRT that exists within gut microbes. The researchers then give the HPRT protein to mice to see if they will develop Type 1 diabetes, according to Audrey Randall, GMCAS ’29, who works in Altindis’s lab.
“If we produce this HPRT-like protein, can we treat this isolated protein and give it to the mice and see if that in itself causes Type 1 diabetes?” Randall said. “Then we can then confirm or understand if [it] plays a part in Type 1 diabetes autoimmunity.”
Altindis expressed his gratitude to both the Beatson Foundation and his research team for supporting his work.
“I’m really grateful to everyone who contributed to this study … I’m grateful for the people working in the lab and for their work,” Altindis said. “And I’m also grateful that we have had this foundation’s support. We also got two other grants for this project before.”