The Paul Ehrlich Foundation honors the 38-year-old biochemist and nutritionist Schulz for his biomedical research on the function of white and brown fat cells. Schulz is investigating the physiological or pathological effects of both fat cell types, whether these effects can be controlled, and how brown and white fat is produced from stem cells. He is interested in questions of cellular differentiation as well as questions of nutrition.
"With his excellent work, Tim Schulz has made a major contribution to the understanding of adipocyte development and function," said Tilman Grune, scientific director of DIfE. "His findings are relevant not only from a nutritional physiological perspective, but also from a medical point of view, because they show new ways to better treat major diseases such as obesity, but also associated diseases such as age-related fractures. We are delighted that we have such a capable, young researcher as a senior scientist in our ranks," Grune went on to say.
It has only been known for some years that adults have brown adipose tissue in addition to white. While white fat cells are mainly used for energy storage and thermal insulation, brown fat cells generate heat and thus prevent the body from hypothermia. Both fat cell types thus fulfill important physiological functions. However, fat cells can also help to promote disease. For example, this occurs when white fat cells accumulate in atypical tissues due to a faulty diet and/or aging. Or when age-related loss of brown fat helps to reduce the body's energy expenditure, which in turn increases the risk of obesity, which is often associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
"We know that obesity is particularly widespread in the older population," said Schulz. Older people also often have atypical, so-called ectopic fat cell accumulations in the bone marrow or muscles. These accumulations reduce the ability of the affected tissues to regenerate and promote their loss of function as well as the development of metabolic diseases. But why is this so, what happens on a cellular and molecular level?
These are exciting questions that we need to clarify in order to develop new prevention and treatment strategies," said Schulz. The young prizewinner recently provided a first answer to this question in the renowned journal Cell Stem Cell (Ambrosi et al. 2017), in which he published his first results on ectopic fat cell accumulation in the bone marrow.
In this publication, Schulz and his team show that a high-fat diet - especially in combination with an advanced age - leads to the proliferation of specialized (fat) precursor cells in the bone marrow. These ultimately contribute to fat accumulation in the bone. The fat cells increasingly release a certain enzyme, which not only affects bone healing but also blood formation in the bone marrow. This enzyme is also known from diabetes research and inhibited by drugs (gliptins) that have been tried and tested for years.
Based on their results, the researchers now assume that these therapeutics will not only help people with diabetes but may also improve bone healing in older, overweight patients. However, this has yet to be demonstrated in clinical studies.
In addition, Schulz has observed in many cell biology studies that the composition of the diet also directly influences the stem cells of the bone. It determines whether the stem cells produce bone or fat precursor cells. Therefore, Schulz and his team want to investigate to what extent certain diets and food ingredients are suitable for supporting the stem cells responsible for bone healing. According to Schulz, research results today show that people can do a great deal for their bone health by paying attention to normal body weight and a balanced diet, especially in old age.
Last but not least, Schulz and his team are looking for ways to increase the number of brown adipocytes, especially in the aged organism, or to counteract their loss. This could be a potential treatment option against obesity because these fat cells will then burn excess calories.
“In view of the increasing aging of society and the increased prevalence of common diseases in old age, the expected research results are particularly relevant,” said DIfE board member Grune.
Short Biography of Professor Tim Julius Schulz
Tim Julius Schulz studied biochemistry at the University of Potsdam; his diploma thesis was supervised by Professor Michael Ristow and Professor Andreas Pfeiffer from DIfE. In 2004 he successfully completed his diploma studies and enrolled in the Friedrich Schiller University Jena for his doctoral studies. In 2007 he received his doctorate from Department of Human Nutrition headed by Prof. Michael Ristow. His dissertation was awarded the doctoral prize of the Faculty of Biology and Pharmacy of the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena. This was followed by a five-year research stay at the Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA, in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Metabolism. From 2012 to 2016, Schulz headed the Emmy Noether Young Investigator Research Group "Adipocyte Development" at the German Institute of Nutrition Research Potsdam-Rehbrücke (DIfE) funded by the German Research Foundation. Since 2016, he has continued this research now as head of the department "Adipocyte Development and Nutrition". The researcher is a professor appointed jointly by the University of Potsdam and DIfE.
The Paul Ehrlich Foundation
The Paul Ehrlich Foundation is a legally dependent foundation which is managed in a fiduciary capacity by the Association of Friends and Sponsors of Goethe University, Frankfurt. The Honorary Chairman of the Foundation, which was established by Hedwig Ehrlich in 1929, is Professor Peter Strohschneider, president of the German Research Foundation, who also appoints the elected members of the Scientific Council and the Board of Trustees. The Chairman of the Scientific Council of the Paul Ehrlich Foundation is Professor Thomas Boehm, director of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg. Chair of the Board of Trustees is Professor Jochen Maas, head of Research & Development, Sanofi-Aventis Deutschland GmbH. Professor Wilhelm Bender, in his function as Chair of the Association of Friends and Sponsors of the Goethe University, is simultaneously Member of the Scientific Council. The President of Goethe University is in this function at the same time a member of the Board of Trustees.