Alika K. Maunakea
Epigenomics Research Program
John A. Burns School of Medicine
My research focuses on understanding the biological mechanisms that underlie the relationship between environment and health in a health disparities context. Specifically, my lab is investigating how immunoepigenetic-gut microbiome interactions contribute to the early development of inflammatory-related conditions, including social cardiometabolic disorders, that might explain the disproportionately higher prevalence of such conditions in Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. Using community-based research, we employ a systems biology approach focusing on genome-wide technologies and apply bioinformatic analyses for data visualization, integration, and interpretation.
The impact of my research is synergistic with C-MĀIKI Investigators by providing a better understanding of how the human gut microbiome can modulate the immune system and disease risk.
IMPACT TO HAWAII
The highest rates of cardiometabolic diseases in the U.S. occur among minority and indigenous populations, notably Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, which may arise from racial/ethnic differences in response to exposures to neighborhood social environments and social network influences that together impact the immunoepigenetic-gut microbiome axis underlying disease risk. Results of our research will have significant implications for improving early diagnostics and risk stratification of cardiometabolic diseases, provide novel insights into the mechanisms of these health disparities, and provide immediate benefits to reverse these health outcomes directly in communities of need.