University of Miami Researchers Receive $2.9 Million to Study IBD Genetics in Hispanic Population


Research by Maria T. Abreu, M.D., and Jacob McCauley, Ph.D., should help fill a gap in the research of the genetics of inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis.

Maria T. Abreu, M.D., director of the Crohn’s and Colitis Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and Jacob McCauley, Ph.D., director of the Center for Genome Technology and Biorepository Facility, have received a $2.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study genetic sequences as they relate to the causes of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including ulcerative colitis, in the Hispanic population.

Maria T. Abreu

Maria T. Abreu

Root causes of IBD are being discovered thanks to national research done on the genetic sequencing of over 100,000 people. However, the genetic data studied is primarily derived from individuals of European ancestry, leaving a gap in information about IBD among Hispanic people.

The rate of IBD is lower in people from Latin America than in those from Europe or the United States. However, Abreu noticed that the rate of IBD in Latin Americans quickly increased after they moved to the U.S. To investigate the cause of these changes, researchers need a larger pool of Hispanic gene sequences.

A 2017 study, led by Oriana Damas, M.D., director of Translational Studies for the Crohn’s and Colitis Center, found that Cubans arriving in the U.S. before 1980 developed IBD an average of 30 years after immigration. Damas found that the time between immigration and diagnosis progressively shortened with younger generations. Cubans arriving in the U.S. between 1980 and 1994 developed IBD about 17 years after arrival, and that time shortened to about eight years for those immigrating after 1995. Damas and colleagues suggested that environmental changes could contribute to the changes in disease onset.

Abreu has been interested in studying the changing patterns in IBD onset in Hispanics but needed a larger number of Hispanic gene sequences to conduct the research. Abreu and McCauley already have DNA obtained from about 2,000 Hispanic people from South Florida. The NIH grant will facilitate the collection of 3,000 more samples. The study will allow Abreu and McCauley to expand the results from the Damas study to individuals from Central America, South America, Mexico, and Caribbean countries.

The University of Miami researchers are working with six other universities as a part of the Genetics Research Centers within the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Genetics Consortium (IBDGC).

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