In his new department Schulz will continue the research that he began as a young investigator group leader at DIfE and for which he has acquired more than EUR 2.5 million in funding from the German Research Foundation (Emmy Noether Programme) and the European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant) *.
Background and research goals
Particularly in the elderly population, the proportion of overweight or obese people is very high. In view of the demographic change, it therefore seems all the more important to develop new strategies to combat obesity in this age group, because it represents a major risk factor for metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke. Moreover, obesity increases the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers such as colon and liver cancer.
It has also long been known that the body stores excess energy for the most part in white adipose tissue and that excess energy over a long period leads to overweight and obesity. Unlike white adipose fat, brown adipose fat can directly convert the energy it stores into heat, which then can no longer contribute to overweight. As recent studies show, not only infants but also adults have brown adipose tissue. Therefore it is a potential target for effective therapies that counteract obesity and other diseases associated with the metabolic syndrome**. Together with his team, Schulz is therefore exploring the developmental biological processes which control the formation of brown and white adipose cells. “For example, we study on the mouse model and in cell culture models which molecular mechanisms in old age lead to a reduction of the brown adipose tissue and therefore promote the development of overweight in the elderly,” the scientist said.
As we get older, white adipose cells accumulate in a number of tissues, such as in skeletal muscle. That is why the research team headed by Schulz is also investigating whether aging processes change the cellular development processes of adipogenic*** stem cells, and if so, how they achieve this. “We want to identify the biochemical mechanisms that in old age impair both the ability to regenerate and the function of different tissue systems and thus promote diseases associated with aging,” said Schulz. “In view of the increasing age of society, our findings are anticipated to be particularly relevant,” the researcher added.
Tim Julius Schulz studied biochemistry at the University of Potsdam, where he wrote his diploma thesis under the supervision of Professor Michael Ristow and Professor Andreas Pfeiffer from DIfE. In 2004 he successfully completed his diploma studies and transferred to the University of Jena for his doctoral studies in the Department of Human Nutrition headed by Prof. Michael Ristow. In 2007 he received his PhD degree, and his dissertation was awarded the doctoral thesis prize of the Biological-Pharmaceutical Faculty of the 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. Since September 2012 Schulz has been leader of the DFG-funded Emmy Noether Young Investigator Group "Adipocyte Development" at DIfE. He will continue this research work starting on April 1, 2016 as head of the Department of Adipocyte Development and Nutrition.
*The ERC Starting Grant is awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) as a highly endowed grant to excellent young researchers after completion of their PhD degree. The ERC is an institution established by the European Commission to finance basic research. The ERC Starting Grant aims to enable young researchers to build their own independent research groups. The creativity of young, promising researchers shall be encouraged to develop new ideas in their respective research fields (http://www.eubuero.de/erc-stg.htm#Zielgruppe).
The Emmy Noether Programme of the German Research Foundation (DFG) supports researchers in achieving independence at an early stage of their scientific careers. Postdocs gain the qualifications required for a university teaching career during a DFG-funded period, usually lasting five years, in which they lead their own independent young investigator research group. As a rule, researchers who have acquired between two and four years of postdoctoral research experience are eligible to apply. Applicants must have international research experience.
**Metabolic syndrome is the term used to describe a complex of symptoms consisting of obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and lipid metabolism disturbance.
***Adipogenic stem cells: stem cells from which adipocytes (fat cells) develop