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OU Medicine researcher receives $2.5M grant to study ways of discovering diabetes earlier

OKLAHOMA CITY – A researcher with OU Medicine received a grant of more than $2 million to study ways to predict who will get diabetes, so that physicians can intervene earlier.

Dharambir Sanghera, Ph.D.

Dharambir Sanghera, Ph.D., recently received a $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to further her diabetes research. Sanghera’s research aims to understand how a person’s genetic makeup interacts with lifestyle factors, like poor diet and lack of exercise, to lead to diabetes.

“Diabetes is a devastating disease,” she said. “It can cause heart disease, stroke, hypertension, kidney failure, blindness and more. Our intent is to identify biomarkers that can be used to predict diabetes, then we can begin treating individuals who are at the highest risk.”

Sanghera said diabetes is caused by multiple genetic defects along with a person’s lifestyle.

Little is known about the genes that likely contribute in some ways to diabetes, so to illuminate that process, Sanghera is using a new approach called metabolics. According to OU Medicine, “state-of-the-art technology will be used to create a snapshot of a person’s metabolomics profile, which will be combined with their lifestyle factors, to see if patterns come to light.”

“In the human body, genes are the chemicals that produce proteins, and proteins determine whether a person has a disease like diabetes,” she said. “However, in diabetes, researchers are still trying to understand what happens in the process of genes creating proteins. With metabolomics, we can bridge the gap between genes and proteins and gain functional readouts of what is going on in our bodies.”

Sanghera will profile more than 4,600 people and look for genetic and metabolomics patterns, such as a chemical compound that consistently increases its response to insulin resistance.

Her search will be personalized, as she will know each person’s lifestyle profile – what they eat, how much they exercise and the stressors they face.

“We are tackling this problem in multiple ways – we know that it’s not only genetics that causes diabetes, and it’s not only lifestyle. It’s their interaction, and that’s why it’s complicated,” she said. “Metabolomics is enabling us to sort it out and find solutions.”

The Presbyterian Health Foundation in Oklahoma City awarded a bridge grant to Sanghera that allowed her to earn the current NIH grant.

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