NIU Board Spotlight: meet Emanuel Canfora

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Emanuel Canfora, currently works at Maastricht University Medical Centre in the department of Human Biology. His current position involves teaching, basic and applied science, and project management. Dr Canfora’s multidisciplinary research focuses on strategies to manipulate the gut microbiota to prevent and treat obesity-related metabolic diseases. He received his BS in Nutritional Science from the Technical University Munich and a MS in Physical Activity and Health from Maastricht University, where he also completed his PhD under Professor Ellen Blaak at Maastricht University and Top Institute Food and Nutrition in 2016. His thesis Short-chain fatty acids: the link between gut microbiota and metabolic healthwas awarded the Dr. Gerritzen Award for best thesis in diabetes research in the Netherlands. His present research focuses on the effects of prebiotics and the microbial products short-chain fatty acids on human substrate and energy metabolism. To study in vivo effects and underlying mechanism, his work combines short and long-term human intervention studies, with a range of in vitro experiments with stem cells derived from human adipose tissue and skeletal muscle.

1) Emanuel, it is great to meet with you, and congratulations in becoming a board member of New Investigators United.

Many thanks; it is a pleasure to join the NIU board. I became aware of the NIU board during the first year of my PhD. I followed the NIU session during the ECO in Lyon in 2012. One of our research group members, Dr. Gijs Goossens, was a member of the NIU board in that time. I enjoyed the informal session and the interaction between new obesity researchers from all over the world. Last year, I participated in the NIU autumn school, which was great and I had the opportunity to speak with the other NIU board members. After this course I was encouraged to apply for board membership. In the future, I hope I can help to further develop and circulate the idea of the NIU to increase collaborations among new obesity researchers from across Europe and to disseminate interesting new research. I very much look forward to the activities and events in the years to come.

2) You mention an early interest in science as a youngster. Please tell us how you came to develop an interest in science – and in particular in biology and chemistry.

Yes indeed, even as a youngster my major interest (besides football 🙂 ) was in natural science; I did marvel over the wonders of the macro- and the microcosm. I remember that I asked my parents a lot of questions about animals and plants and used a microscope from a young age to explore all sorts of things in detail. My favourite television show was the German TV series “Es war einmal das Leben”, which used a comic format to explain the functioning of organs and metabolism of the human body. It is no wonder then that biology and chemistry were my favourite subjects in school. I developed a special interest in (patho) physiology, biochemistry and anatomy. During my apprenticeship as a health care professional and during my time at the Gymnasium, the influence of nutrition and physical activity on human chronic disease such as obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus captured my attention. That is why I decided to pursue a Bachelors degree in ‘Nutritional Science’ at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, followed by a Master in ‘Physical Activity and Health’ at the Maastricht University, The Netherlands. During my internships in the diabetology department of a German hospital and at the German Diabetes Center in Düsseldorf, as well as during my masters thesis internship at the Human Movement Science Department at Maastricht University, my fascination with and passion about human research in chronic diseases became clear.

3) I understand that you will attend the University of California School of Medicine this year to improve your knowledge and understanding of  techniques used in omic technologies in biological samples. Can you share with our readers a description of this work?

The research of my current department (Human Biology) focuses on disturbances in energy and substrate metabolism in the aetiology of obesity and obesity-related health complications, as well as on the role of dietary intervention to reverse these changes. Our group has access to extensive facilities for human intervention studies, detailed human phenotyping as well as biochemical and molecular laboratory techniques (Metabolic Research Unit Maastricht). Additionally, we have facilities for proteomics and lipidomics, and the combination of these omics methodologies in combination with human in vivo intervention and phenotyping is one of the focus areas for the future. Therefore, my visit will perfectly fit within this future research focus, since I will perform and analyse specific bioactive lipids and metabolomics data in plasma and faecal samples from four well-controlled human intervention studies with an extensive metabolic phenotyping of the individuals participated. These studies were performed in our own laboratory during my PhD and postdoctoral period. These clinical intervention trials all aimed to manipulate the gut microbiome by polyphenols, antibiotics and prebiotics and the primary outcome was peripheral insulin sensitivity as measured via the gold standard to assess insulin sensitivity, the hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp technique. The research premise for my visit is to gain further in-depth knowledge around the crosstalk between the gut microbiome and host metabolism using advanced target-related analysis of the metabolome. This project may provide exciting new insights in human gut-peripheral tissue metabolic crosstalk and may provide further leads for strategies to prevent and treat obesity, insulin resistance and/or type 2 diabetes mellitus.

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