Dr. Bertha Hidalgo, assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, was recently awarded a K01 Mentored Career Development Grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund “Epigenetics in a Population of Mexican Americans.”
[Photo: Dr. Bertha Hidalgo]
“Hispanics/Latinos are an understudied population in -omics research. This grant provides a much-needed opportunity to explore the genetic underpinnings of a cluster of diseases that create a significant burden to the health of this population,” says Dr. Hidalgo.
She hypothesizes that characterization of gene-specific DNA methylation marks will provide important insights into the factors contributing to cardiometabolic syndrome (CMS). Additionally, Dr. Hidalgo theorizes that characterizing DNA methylation marks correlated with gene variants may provide important insights into the regulation of these key cardiometabolic genes, previously determined to be important in CMS. DNA methylation (the addition of a methyl group to cytosine or adenine nucleotides) varies with aging as well as environmental exposures and is a critical epigenetic mediator of gene expression. CMS (the collective impact of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity) has a variety of local and systemic manifestations, all of which are likely impacted by a combination of genetic, genomic, and epigenetic pathways.
The project will be carried out in a cohort of 400 participants in the ongoing San Antonio Family Heart Study (SAFHS), which is an extended-family study centered on ascertaining genes linked to the risk of complex diseases among Mexican Americans. The broad goals of Dr. Hidalgo’s study are to determine the association of quantitative methylation data from candidate genes of interest at baseline with prevalent diabetes-, hypertension-, and obesity-related phenotypes; to determine the association of quantitative methylation data at baseline with progression to diabetes, hypertension, and obesity over four study visits; and to integrate single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), methylation, gene expression, and whole genome sequencing data to define the most comprehensive causal model of CMS.
The expected outcome of the proposed research and training is preliminary data to inform the design of a larger study to be led by Dr. Hidalgo in the future.