Does dietary red and processed meat intake associate with type 2 diabetes risk?

12 September 2019

Shafqat Ahmad, researcher at Uppsala University, will receive the Rising Star Award during the European diabetes conference EASD in Barcelona starting next week. In his work he hopes to identify if dietary meat intake associates with type 2 diabetes risk.

Shafqat Ahmad, researcher at Department of
medical sciences in Uppsala.

– If yes, then we will try to find the dietary meat associated causal biomarkers for type 2 diabetes risk, which hopefully will be used in clinic for type 2 diabetes prevention, he says.

Shafqat Ahmad’s current research focuses on understanding cardiometabolic and cardiovascular disease development.

– My research combines methods from the molecular and genetic epidemiology field including biochemistry, genomics, metabolomics, microbiota with relation to lifestyle factors in large scale population based studies to better understand the pathophysiology of cardiometabolic and cardiovascular disease.

The award lecture is entitled “Molecular Signatures of Meat Intake and Risk of type 2 diabetes”. How is meat intake associated with the risk of type 2-diabetes?
– During the past five decades there has been a shift in diets towards a dramatic increase in the consumption of higher energy dense foods especially red and processed meat which is characterised by higher fat and protein. At the same time, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, which is a leading cause of mortality in the western countries, has increased. The biological understanding of the red and processed meat intake on type 2 diabetes risk are not conclusive.

– Also, the mechanisms through which red and processed meat intake may influences diabetes-related traits is complex and are not clear. In the current research project, we are aiming to integrate large scale epidemiological information about red and processed meat intake while incorporating genetic, metabolomic and microbiota information to better understand the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes risk.

What brought you into the research field?
– In 2008, when me and my wife were doing Master's in Molecular Biology at Skövde University Sweden, we got possibilities to do ours Master's theses at Lund University Diabetes Centre. My Master’s thesis was about understanding the role of miRNAs in the development of Type 1 Diabetes. It was a great learning experience and it greatly motivated me to explore further into the understanding of cardiometabolic disease.

– During my PhD studies at Lund University Diabetes Centre, I worked in Professor Paul Franks’s team to understand the importance of interactions between genetic and lifestyle risk factors in the pathogenesis of obesity and cardiometabolic risk factors. We used both epidemiological data as well as clinical trial data in order to find out the roles of these factors in cardiometabolic disease development. During my PhD studies, I also got possibility to study these interactions across South Asian population while visiting Dr Danish Saleheen’s research group at University of Pennsylvania, USA.  We aimed to understand why South Asians people are at higher risk of cardiometabolic disease than Europeans.

– After my PhD studies, I was awarded several international fellowships to do my postdoctoral training at Harvard University USA. I was lucky to work with some of the leading epidemiologists including Professor Frank Hu, Dr Dan Chasman and Dr Samia Mora at Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. At Harvard, I extended my expertise by a) analysing gene-lifestyle interactions in lipoprotein subfractions and cardiometabolic disease incidence and b) understanding the role of diet in cardiometabolic and cardiovascular diseases. It was a great learning experience.

After his two years stay at Harvard, Shafqat Ahmad returned back to Sweden and is currently working in Professor Tove Fall’s research group in molecular epidemiology at Uppsala University.

Sara Liedholm


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The research section Molecular epidemiology