Martin Heni is a physician with a research focus on disease development, clinical course, and optimized treatment of type 2 diabetes and obesity. He researches communication between organs that control human metabolism and investigates how the brain regulates these processes.
Insulin Action in the Brain Determines Body Weight and Fat Distribution
Current studies show that the brain plays a decisive role in the onset of type 2 diabetes and obesity. In his work, Heni was able to prove that fat distribution in the body and the impact of insulin depend on the insulin sensitivity of the brain, among other things. If the brain is sensitive to the hormone, then there will be significant weight loss upon initiating a lifestyle intervention; unhealthy abdominal fat is reduced, and the new weight can be maintained. When the brain is insulin resistant, then there is initial weight loss followed by regaining of the weight. Also, in the long term, visceral fat levels also increase.
There is currently no therapy to restore insulin sensitivity in the brain. Heni and his colleagues at the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD) and Institute for Diabetes Research and Metabolic Diseases of the Helmholtz Center Munich (IDM) were able to show for the first time that the SGLT2 inhibitor empagliflozin can treat insulin resistance of the brain – with positive effects for whole-body metabolism.
Focus on Translation
In his role as a medical researcher, Heni has a strong translational focus. He is working on closing the gap between fundamental research and mechanistic studies in humans. In his Minkowski Lecture on the topic of “The insulin resistant brain: impact on whole-body metabolism and body fat distribution” on September 22 at the EASD Annual Meeting, he will present the results of his research, among other things.
Martin Heni studied medicine in Greifswald and Tubingen. In 2008, he completed his experimental doctoral thesis as a fellow of the German Research Society (DFG) Research Training Group. In 2005, he earned his medical specialization certification in internal medicine, endocrinology, and diabetology. In 2016, he began work as a senior physician and was the head of the Clinical Research Center for Diabetes at Tubingen University Hospital and at the DZD partner institute IDM (Institute for Diabetes Research and Metabolic Diseases at Helmholtz Munich). In his role as a scientist at the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), he co-founded and co-coordinated the DZD academy “Insulin action and resistance in the brain”. In 2022, he was named full professor at Ulm University. He also heads the Department of Endocrinology and Diabetology at University Hospital Ulm.
The Minkowski Prize recognizes research that contributes to the advancement of knowledge in the field of diabetes carried out by a EASD member who is resident in Europe. The prize is awarded to an exceptional researcher with no more than ten years of full-time experience as an independent researcher in the year of nomination. The Minkowski Prize is supported by Lilly and is endowed with €20,000 prize money.