New Prize Awarded to Researcher for Advancing Understanding of Genetic Components of Obesity
Professor Ruth Loos has been named the inaugural recipient of the Obesity Prize for Excellence, established by the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The prize comes with a DKK 2 million award.
In January 2023, EASO and the Novo Nordisk Foundation announced plans to create an Obesity Prize for Excellence, aimed at recognizing agenda-setting researchers in the field of obesity and have now chosen the first awardee. The prize will be presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Dublin on 18 May 2023.
Professor Ruth Loos, of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen, has been awarded the prize for her exceptional contributions to understanding the genetic factors linked to obesity development.
The prize includes a DKK 2 million award, with DKK 300,000 designated as a personal award and DKK 1.7 million allocated for research.
“We are thrilled to present Ruth Loos with this prestigious prize. Her groundbreaking research on the interplay between genetic and non-genetic factors in obesity development has advanced our understanding of the physiological basis of weight gain and obesity. Additionally, she has utilized her research findings to inform key recommendations on the commercial use of genetic tests to assess individuals’ risk of developing obesity. We hope this prize encourages her to continue this promising work,” says Arne Astrup, MD, Professor and Senior Vice President of Obesity and Nutritional Sciences at the Novo Nordisk Foundation.
EASO President Professor Jason Halford said “Congratulations from the EASO family to the Prize and award winners announced today. We are delighted to have the opportunity to partner with the Novo Nordisk Foundation to support these five research-focused annual grants per year for three years. We very much look forward to hearing from the winners, who will be officially recognised and share presentations on 18 May 2023 at the European Congress on Obesity in Dublin.”
In addition to the Obesity Prize for Excellence, EASO and the Foundation have also presented four New Investigator Awards in the areas of basic research, clinical research, childhood obesity, and public health, respectively. Each award is accompanied by a DKK 300,000 research grant; recipients are named below.
Pioneering Work in Identifying Obesity Risk Genes
Ruth Loos’ work in obesity science is extensive. In 2007, she was part of the team that identified the first genomic locus associated with an increased risk of obesity development.
This groundbreaking discovery paved the way for the identification of a second obesity-related genomic locus. Since then, Loos has played a leading role in the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits (GIANT) consortium, which has identified over 1,500 genomic loci associated with body mass index (BMI).
This research has revealed that genes influencing the brain play a significant role in the genetic risk for developing obesity.
“Conducting this research has necessitated extensive collaboration among researchers in various fields, as it involves more than simply identifying the genes associated with obesity risk. It also requires understanding the proteins or hormones expressed by these genes and how they affect our biology. One reason I moved my research to Denmark is because my office is located near some of the world’s most talented researchers in translational biology,” explains Ruth Loos.
The Interplay of Genetics and Environment in Obesity Development
Loos’ work in mapping numerous genetic variants that can influence an individual’s BMI has also shown that genes are not the sole determinant of obesity development; environmental factors play a critical role as well.
Much of Loos’ current research focuses on understanding the connections between genetics and environmental factors in determining BMI. She and her colleagues have launched one of the most comprehensive studies to date, examining the genetics and metabolism of 10,000 individuals. The goal is not only to understand the factors influencing their BMI, but also to learn more about their risk for developing metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.
The researchers will follow the participants for 25 years, but even early phases of the study will provide insights into the factors shaping individuals’ physical appearance.
Professor Loos Allocates Funds for Project Investigating Early-Life Obesity Predictors
The EASO and Foundation prize includes DKK 1.7 million for research. Loos has earmarked these funds for a project in which she and her colleagues will genetically map 16,000 children and their mothers. The aim is to determine whether the proteins expressed in their blood can be used to predict who will develop obesity later in life, akin to the genetic component of obesity.
“Obesity often begins early in life, so predicting its development requires examining children. Between the ages of 2 and 8, children are already on a weight trajectory that is difficult to alter. It is crucial to identify the genes and proteins that determine the weight trajectory children will follow throughout their lives before they reach these ages to explore potential intervention opportunities,” says Ruth Loos.
Four Researchers Receive New Investigator Awards
In addition to the prize awarded to Ruth Loos, four researchers are receiving New Investigator Awards from EASO and the Foundation in the following categories:
Basic Science – Cintia Folgueira Cobos, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research in Madrid, has conducted research showing that a specific mitochondrial protein is downregulated in adipose tissue among people with obesity compared to those with normal weight. This protein may play a role in thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue, opening a therapeutic window for obesity prevention by modulating its expression.
Clinical Research – Sini Heinonen, MD and Postdoctoral Fellow at HUS (Helsinki University Hospital) in Finland, is being recognized for her pioneering research on the association between obesity and a significant reduction in the mitochondrial capacity of adipose tissue, which profoundly impacts metabolic health. Her current work investigates how weight loss through bariatric surgery can restore adipose tissue metabolism, a key discovery which can support developing new treatments for people with obesity.
Public Health – Susanna Mills, Clinical Lecturer and Public Health Specialty Registrar at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, has conducted extensive research on the impact of severe mental illness on the risk of developing obesity and its associated comorbidities. Her work has also focused on weight management strategies for this vulnerable population.
Childhood Obesity – Cristina Cadenas-Sanchez, Marie Curie Postdoctoral fellow, University of Granada (Spain); Stanford University & VA Palo Alto Health Care System, (USA) is receiving the Award for important research on such topics as the association between physical activity and brain health among children with obesity and the association between physical activity, fitness and fat deposition among children with obesity.
All prizes and awards will be officially presented at the 30th European Congress on Obesity (#ECO2023) on 18 May 2023, where we will have an opportunity to hear the award lectures. Registration is available: https://eco2023.org