Prolonged exposure to a toxin produced by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria is associated with symptoms of diabetes including increased insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and systemic inflammation in a study published in the journal mBio.

Prior research by Patrick Schlievert, PhD, from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, and colleagues found that superantigens (toxins produce by all strains of Staphylococcus bacteria disrupt the immune system and are responsible for the deadly effects of various staph infections. As individuals are more likely to be colonized by staph bacteria as they gain weight, they can also be chronically exposed to superantigens produced by S. aureus.

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In an animal model, Dr. Schlievert’s team found that prolonged exposure to superantigens produced by S. aureus led to increased insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and systemic inflammation. After evaluating levels of staph colonization on the skin of four patients with diabetes, the researchers estimated that exposure to the superantigens for those who are heavily colonized by staph is proportional to the doses of superantigen that caused rabbits in the animal model to develop these symptoms of diabetes.

The researchers are currently developing a vaccine against the superantigens that could help to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes, along with an investigation on the use of a topical gel containing glycerol monolaurate to eliminate staph bacteria from human skin and improve blood sugar levels in patients with prediabetes.

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