Bertha Hidalgo, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Epidemiology, was recently awarded a $570,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund “Epigenetics in a Population of Mexican Americans,” her study on the genomics of the Mexican American population related to cardiometabolic syndrome, which can lead to heart disease or diabetes.
“Hispanics/Latinos are an understudied population in various -omics research,” Hidalgo said. “This grant provides a much-needed opportunity to explore the genetic underpinnings of a cluster of diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, that create a significant burden to the health of the Mexican American segment of this population.”
Hidalgo will examine the characteristics of gene-specific DNA methylation marks, which modify the function of DNA, to provide important insights into the factors contributing to cardiometabolic syndrome in the Mexican American population. DNA methylation, or the addition of a methyl group to cytosine or adenine nucleotides, varies with aging as well as environmental exposures and is a critical external factor of many diseases. CMS is caused by several interrelated risk factors that group together and can lead to heart disease or Type 2 diabetes.
The DNA methylation marks Hidalgo is researching have proved to be important in the individual components of CMS and could provide important insights into the regulation of the genes responsible for cardiometabolic diseases that could lead to heart disease, stroke, hypertension or obesity. CMS has a variety of local and systemic signs, all of which are likely impacted by a combination of genetic, genomic and epigenetic pathways.
The project will be carried out in a population of 400 participants in the ongoing San Antonio Family Heart Study, which is an extended-family study centered on ascertaining genes linked to the risk of complex diseases among Mexican Americans. The expected outcome of the proposed research and training is preliminary data to inform the design of a larger study to be led by Hidalgo in the future.