Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer the U.S. And the Hispanic population is at greater risk for strokes, heart attack, and diabetes. A binational study is allowing scientists in San Antonio to pinpoint the early signs of cardiovascular disease in people of Mexican ancestry.
The Genética de las Enfermedades Metabólicas en México study — translated as Genetics of Metabolic Diseases in Mexico — studies healthy individuals from across Mexico and find out whether cardiovascular disease can ultimately be prevented.
The two-year GEMM Family Study at Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio was recently granted roughly $544,000 by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
The two principal investigators are Dr. Raul A. Bastarrachea and Jack W.Kent, Jr. of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio.
Kent says what makes this study unique is that researchers are looking at the genetic changes when subjects are presented with a meal.
“Most of the time, when doctors want to know your basic blood work, they do it at fasting,” Kent said. “... But Dr. Bastarrachea’s insight was that, although we may look pretty much the same at baseline, once a challenge comes — the challenge of actually having food in our bellies — the way we handle that may look very different and it may predict future dysfunction.”
Bastarrachea said the subjects fast for 12 hours then are given 30 percent of their daily energy needs.
“We put them in a bed in a hospital for five hours. We’re measuring what’s going on with their metabolism,” Bastarrachea said.
He added some people who are considered healthy still cannot burn the glucose, lipids, or proteins that build up in their system.
“They stay longer in the circulation,” he said. “Those are defects in the metabolism that are going to hurt the blood vessels and make them weak. They become diabetic. That’s what we don’t want. We really want to detect these situations as early as possible.”
Kent said the study goes beyond just looking at changes in blood sugar or blood pressure.
“What we’ve added in this study is looking at chemical measures of what the genes are actually doing,” he said. “Not only do we have information on what a person’s genetic background is, but what they’re actually doing with that genetic background.”
Bastarrachea said those genetic observations give researchers a way to better and more quickly detect when people are at increased risk for developing diabetes.
“We’re trying to be one step ahead of these abnormalities that are signaling someone to be at higher risk to have an infarction, an amputation, or a stroke,” he said. “We are focusing on otherwise healthy families. We’re comparing healthy people within families who are inheriting these common prevalent diseases — obesity, diabetes, dyslipidemia, even osteoporosis — with our study design.”
The study group is made up of 40 healthy adults whose blood and muscle tissue is being collected at 10 university hospital sites across Mexico.
“It was distributed across Mexico with the intent of capturing the great diversity of historic genetic background across that country,” Kent said. “It is also focused on urban areas. It is taking people who are already part of what is becoming a more westernized lifestyle. We’re looking at healthy adults. These are people who would not be considered to have any disease condition.”
Kent said he hopes this pilot study will lead to a larger study of 400 people within large family groups to “maximize the genetic information of transmission across generations.”
Bastarrachea said a larger study would also provide a comprehensive representation of the health of people of Mexican descent.
“Mexicans on the border, Mexicans within the United States (immigrants), Mexican-Americans, and Mexicans in (the interior of the country), independent of the environment,” he said. “We will find better molecular and biochemical pathways, and we will not only be able to advise people that they have specific conditions that are putting them at early risk for cardiovascular disease.
“The industry will be better oriented to design better medication to prevent the disease not just treat it.”