In 2012, diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in the United States with over 29 million people having the deadly disease. Around 90% of these diabetes patients have Type 2 diabetes. Despite the huge number of people with diabetes, scientists have had trouble finding an exact cause or cure for Type 2 diabetes. That is, until now. Scientists have made leads showing that bacteria are the primary cause of one of the most prevalent diseases of contemporary society.
Led by Patrick Schlievert, PhD, professor and DEO of microbiology at the UI Carver College of Medicine, microbiologists at the University of Iowa have linked the bacteria strand Staphylococcus aureus (staph) with trademark symptoms of diabetes, such as insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and systemic inflammation. The scientists tested the strand by chronically exposing rabbits to the toxins produced by the staph, and they were able to essentially reproduce Type 2 diabetes. Their studies have showed that the proportion of staph in diabetes patients is proportional to the dosages of staph that caused diabetes in the test rabbits.
But what about obesity, one of the primary risk factors for Type 2 diabetes? Researchers state that because obesity alters a person’s microbiome, the ecosystem of bacteria that run their body, obese people are more likely to be colonized by large amounts of staph bacteria. The superantigens interact with fat cells and the immune system, causing chronic systemic inflammation, which leads to the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes. Schlievert’s research has also shown that the staph toxins disrupt the immune system, causing fatal repercussions such as toxic shock syndrome, sepsis, and endocarditis.
Schlievert is optimistic about having a potential method of curing diabetes “I think we have a way to intercede here and alter the course of diabetes,” he says. “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.” They plan to do this using of a gel containing glycerol monolaurate, which kills staph bacteria on contact. By testing on patients with pre-diabetes, they will be able to examine whether this approach improves sugar levels. If they succeed, they will have done the impossible: curing the “incurable disease” and bringing salvation to hundreds of millions of people worldwide.