According to the jury, headed by Prof. Dr. Günter Stock, president of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, this topic is highly relevant for society and important because more than half of the adults in Germany are overweight or obese. In particular, fat that accumulates in the abdomen and in the liver increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Morbid obesity is a complex disease based on the combination of multiple genes and their interaction with environmental factors. One objective of the scientists in the DIfE and the DZD is to learn more about the genes and their function and thus more about the molecular mechanisms that contribute to the development of the disease, in order to devise new approaches to more effective drug treatments.
During her research work at the DifE, Heike Vogel identified two genes that are overexpressed in the adipose tissue of morbidly obese people. These genes favor fat deposition in visceral adipose tissue, the so-called visceral fat in the abdomen. As the study findings further indicate, overexpression of both genes promotes the secretion of an enzyme in the adipose tissue which is responsible for the formation of cortisol. Cortisol is known as a stress hormone, but it also plays a role in the regulation of energy balance.
“Through her excellent research work, Heike Vogel has made a significant contribution to our understanding of the development of morbid obesity,” said Hans-Georg Joost, scientific director of the DIfE. “Moreover, learning more about the cellular function of these genes will help us develop new strategies for diabetes prevention, because visceral fat is a strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes,” added Annette Schürmann. She heads the Department of Experimental Diabetology at the DIfE and supervised Heike Vogel during her doctoral thesis.
Currently, the successful young scientist is on a two-year research fellowship of the German Research Foundation at the University of Gothenburg/Sweden (Department of Physiology/Endocrinology).