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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

UNC Professor Awarded $2.5 Million NIH Grant to Study Whether Microbiome Links Western Diet, Cardiometabolic Risk

Dr. Penny Gordon-Larsen, professor of nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, has been awarded a $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases for the project, “Transition to a Western diet and cardiometabolic risk: Biomarkers derived from the microbiome.”

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[Photo: Using data from two Chinese communities – one urban and one transitioning from rural to urban – UNC’s Dr. Penny Gordon-Larsen (left) will examine whether gut microbiota differ, based upon when individuals transition from a traditional Chinese diet to a more Western one. Chinese fast-food photo by AndrewT@NN/Flickr Creative Commons.]

Dr. Gordon-Larsen will serve as primary investigator for the grant, which will be funded through June 2019.

While recent work through the National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project has characterized the normal bacterial makeup of the body, researchers still know little about how the microbiome changes during the process of urbanization in reaction to shifts in diet, obesity, and cardiometabolic risk.

Humans are host to an enormous range of bacteria living on almost every part of the body, which – in total – weigh roughly as much as the human brain. These bacteria can have both beneficial and harmful effects upon health, such as bacteria in the gut that influence host metabolism by modulating signaling pathways.

Previous research suggests that a Western diet (high in meat, sugar, fat and refined grains) is associated with increased obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease, as well as changes in gut bacteria. Many of these findings have been reached by comparing populations from different countries.

Using the China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS) – an NIH-funded study of more than 15,000 individuals tracked across 25 years – Dr. Gordon-Larsen and colleagues will examine whether gut microbiota and plasma metabolites differ depending upon precisely when individuals transitioned from a traditional Chinese diet to a Western diet.

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