Cleveland Clinic researchers will use a new $3.8 million federal grant to examine how an individual’s genes and diet interact in the development of heart disease.
A team led by Stanley L. Hazen, MD, PhD, Section Head of Preventative Cardiology and a staff member in Lerner Research Institute’s Department of Cell Biology, recently received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how our food intake, combined with microscopic organisms residing in our intestines ("gut flora"), and our genes influence risk for developing atherosclerotic heart disease. His collaborators on the five-year study include colleagues Joseph A. DiDonato, PhD; W. H. Wilson Tang, MD; Zeneng Wang, PhD; Steve Nicholls, MD, PhD and Steve Nissen, MD.
Gut flora, comprised of trillions of typically non-pathogenic organisms, serve as a filter for our greatest environmental exposure - what we eat. Gut flora are essential to survival, aiding in the digestion and absorption of many nutrients. Variations in disease state and in nutritional intake affect the composition of the gut flora, and can be reflected by variations in compounds in blood.
Studies have indicated a connection between the gut flora and the development of complex disorders, such as susceptibility to obesity, insulin resistance, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. However, a connection between gut flora and a subject's risk for development of heart disease has not yet been reported.
Dr. Hazen's group has discovered a link between gut flora and heart disease risk, and in preliminary studies has shown gut flora impacts development of heart disease in both animal models and in humans.
The NIH funding will allow investigators to test their hypothesis that gut flora metabolism of specific dietary lipids is mechanistically linked to cardiovascular disease. Their research hopes to help identify gut flora-generated by-products in the blood that contribute to development of heart disease and serve as diagnostic markers of cardiac risk. Overall, the proposed research aims to also help develop novel treatments for preventing heart disease.