Hello Emanuel, it's great to have the opportunity to interview you again. Congratulations on winning the ECO2019 New Investigators United Award in Basic Science.
Please tell us about your research that led to the prize in basic science:
Many thanks for having me. It is my great pleasure.
My Ph.D. and postdoc work has focused on the gut microbial short-chain fatty acids and how these metabolites are involved in the regulation of body weight and insulin sensitivity in humans. Accumulating evidence, mainly derived from animal experiments, showed that short-chain fatty acids can prevent metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. To investigate whether this could be translated to humans, we executed several acute and long-term in vivo human intervention studies and combined them with in vitro mechanistic studies using stem cells derived from human adipose tissue and skeletal muscle (myosatellite) cells. Overall, the work strongly suggests that it is of importance to enhance microbial-derived short-chain fatty acid production in the last part of the large intestine (the distal colon) as well as in the systemic circulation.
My present research focuses on defining food products/ingredients that reach the distal colonic microbiota. This is not so easy, since most of indigestible foods that reach the large intestine get fermented earlier, and therefore new nutritional strategies are warranted. To study those, we make use of a translational approach, combining an in vitro model that simulates the conditions in the lumen of the human colon with in vivo human intervention studies, where we further investigate whether these food products/ingredients beneficially affect human substrate and energy metabolism.
At the moment, I am also expanding my field of study. For example, I want to investigate the role of microbial metabolites derived from the fermentation of proteins. There are indications that those metabolites also play an important role in gut and metabolic health.
In addition, the microbiota composition and its gene pool, and therefore also its fermentation capacity of foods and metabolite production, highly differ between individuals. Therefore, in the near future, I want to focus on more personalized nutritional approaches to target the gut microbiota and metabolic health.
What is your professional role at the moment, and are there future professional plans you can share?
In addition to research, my academic position involves teaching. In this role I coordinate practical work, supervise students and act as a tutor and lecturer in biomedical/nutritional science BSc and MSc programs.
For one and a half years, I have also been a board member of the EASO New Investigator United. I experience this as an absolutely wonderful opportunity to get in contact with so many interesting people in the filed of obesity research. In the last years we have vastly broadened the NIU network reach via various channels such as Twitter and Facebook to include a broad audience including people living with obesity, researchers and clinicians. During our yearly activities, such as the NIU autumn school, we bring together junior and senior scientists, clinicians and experts from across disciplines related to obesity from countries all over Europe. In recent autumn schools, there has always been very lively discussion during lectures and seminars and it has been great to see people from different disciplines connecting and start collaborating. For the upcoming NIU autumn school, at the beginning of September, we were interested in inviting members of the European Coalition for People living with Obesity to join the school. I think that this will provide a great opportunity for all attendees and speakers to discuss at a realistic level, the particular needs for future obesity research directly with people living with obesity.
Aside from your professional interests, what are your hobbies and interests?
One of my major hobbies is nature and landscape photography, loving the diversity in landscape, colours and nature of our planet. . Furthermore, I am a new father with a wonderful baby daughter and she has become my main (not only photographic J ) subject of interest.
From 2011 to 2016, Emanuel Canfora was a PhD fellow at the Department of Human Biology Maastricht University Medical Centre+ (MUMC+) under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Ellen Blaak. In his PhD project he investigated the effects of gut microbial-derived short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) on the human substrate and energy metabolism. To study this Emanuel combined in vivo, human intervention studies, with a range of in vitro experiments using human cell lines. Since then, Emanuel Canfora has been a researcher and lecturer at the Department of Human Biology of MUMC+. The current position involves teaching, basic and applied science, as well as project management. In 2018, he was a visiting research scholar in the Department of Medicine of the University of California San Diego, where he gained knowledge in advanced techniques in metabolomics analysis. His current research focuses on strategies to alter the human gut microbiome to prevent and treat chronic metabolic disease. For his work he was recognized with several prestigious inter(national) awards and grants, latest with the EASO new investigator award for basic science.