Podcast: Analyzing Genetic Sequencing to Better Treat GI Diseases

Is mining genetic data the key to identifying susceptibility to gastrointestinal diseases? Maria Abreu, M.D., director of the Crohn’s and Colitis Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, thinks it might be — particularly for groups that are disproportionately affected by these illnesses.

Headshot of Dr. Abreu
Maria T. Abreu, M.D.

Dr. Abreu joined the latest edition of Inside U Miami Medicine to share her work collecting and analyzing the genetics of Hispanic patients to better understand inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in those communities. As a result of her efforts, the Miller School is home to the largest database of Hispanic patients with IBD in the U.S. For Dr. Abreu, who grew up in a Cuban family and didn’t learn English until she started school, the work is particularly close to her heart.

“We don’t currently have great epidemiologic data from Latin America. We do know that in urban centers … there is a rising rate,” she said. “I believe that if you take those same individuals who don’t have it in their native country and move them to the U.S., it jump-starts their risk of developing IBD.”

She also shared with Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School and host of the podcast, how several ongoing, NIH-funded diet studies will help answer the question of a long-term, sustainable diet for these patients.

“Now the NIH has made a commitment to understand the genetics in populations that aren’t just of European descent. Blacks have been underrepresented in this biobank, and Hispanics have been underrepresented,” she said. “We were chosen because of how rich a resource we have already established, and because of the possibility of collecting even more samples from Hispanic patients in the U.S.”

Dr. Abreu and Dean Ford throwing up the U

Dr. Abreu, who is the incoming president of the American Gastroenterological Association and the first Latina president of the organization, also spoke about advancing female representation in gastroenterology, a field where less than 20% of physicians are females.

“My hope is that I’ll leave a legacy,” she said. “In particular, I want to make sure our field is equitable for women.”

To hear more about Dr. Abreu’s journey in the medical field and her recent educational trip to Italy, search “Inside U Miami Medicine” wherever you get your podcasts.

Tags: Crohn's and Colitis Center, Dean Henri Ford, Department of Medicine, Division of Digestive Health and Liver Diseases, Dr. Maria Abreu, Inside U Miami Medicine