A graduate student in the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) is conducting research that may have a significant impact on underserved and vulnerable populations. Christian Dye is probing the causes of diabetes and other chronic diseases prevalent in Native Hawaiian and other communities.
Dye, currently a faculty member at JABSOM, will earn his PhD from UH Mānoa in spring 2020.
“My current research seeks to understand inflammation-associated disorders, like diabetes, from an epigenetics viewpoint—the influence of environmental factors (diet, exercise, smoking, etc.) on how our cells function by influencing how genes are turned on, off, or even changed,” he explained.
JABSOM has allowed me to be at the center of research that is not only meaningful, but was instrumental in allowing me to do so in the communities that I feel most passionate about, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders,” Dye said.
Dye focuses on epigenetics to determine the potential mechanisms underlying disease pathogenesis. “We may be able to understand whether certain areas of the genome are epigenetically regulated and if such regulation may be involved in how immune cells function and whether this leads to immune dysfunction or inflammation.”
Exciting results of Dye’s research include the benefits of an intervention in Native Hawaiians with diabetes, which led to drastic changes in epigenetic profiles. The epigenetic alterations were linked to changes in gene expression and immune cell function (reduced inflammation) that were associated with better glycemic control. “These findings have potentially bridged cell function and beneficial health outcomes with epigenetic modifications that may regulate genes enriched in biological functions important to immune cells,” he said.
Dye plans to develop a network of community-based participatory research centers for investigation of cellular, molecular or biological mechanisms that may underlie the benefits of culturally-based practices and interventions. “By bridging indigenous knowledge and practice within a western context of science, technology and medicine, we may be able to understand the ‘science’ as to why these practices are beneficial to at-risk communities while also elucidating how certain cells, like immune cells, may function, and the potential that their regulation may be involved in beneficial health outcomes which can eventually be used in targeted strategies for understanding disease risk and possible therapeutics.”
Dye’s interest in the cellular and molecular biology of health disparities motivated him to work at the UH medical school. “JABSOM has allowed me to be at the center of research that is not only meaningful, but was instrumental in allowing me to do so in the communities that I feel most passionate about, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders,” he said. “JABSOM also allowed me to enter some of the communities where these health disparities are prevalent and use research to help understand them.”