Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research > News > 2017 > Sapere Aude Morten Lundh
18 January 2016
Morten Lundh Received a Prestigious Sapere Aude Grant
A prestigious grant from the Danish Council of Independent Research was received by Morten Lundh, a postdoc in the research group of Assistant Professor Brice Emanuelli (Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research). Sapere Aude Research Talent Awards are given to elite postdoc researchers who have particularly ambitious and inventive research goals.
Obesity and related diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular problems, are on a steep rise in most of the world which makes research on new and better treatments a very important task for the world’s biomedical research communities.
An idea for potentially finding improved treatments might be found in a tissue known as brown fat. This type of body fat is different from ordinary white fat since very small amounts of active brown fat, in contrast to the white fat, are able to burn large amounts of energy. The idea driving Morten’s research is that by activating the brown fat, which all people possess; hopefully, you can burn off the extra calories, thus reducing or preventing obesity.
For several decades, it has been known that infants and rodents have brown fat which protects them from chilling. Around 2007-2009, a number of researchers discovered that human adults have brown fat, too. “These findings occurred while I was doing my Master's degree in molecular biomedicine; and since then, brown fat and its characteristics have truly fascinated me - especially when I see a clear clinical perspective in the understanding of this tissue,” says Morten Lundh.
The grant is awarded to support Lundh’s project on how brown fat is regulated. By using an approach referred to as phosphoproteomics, Lundh and his supervisor Brice Emanuelli have identified a novel regulator of brown fat – a so-called adaptor protein called Afadin which may play a pivotal role in regulating how brown fat utilizes energy.
“One of the biggest challenges of the project is trying to reproduce in the lab what happens in the human body,” explains Morten Lundh. The type of conducted trials requires the manipulation of genes which makes it impossible to make experiments directly in humans. Instead, Lundh has to work with various simple models such as mice.
Until recently, most models were based on animals; however, this year, researchers from Harvard Medical School succeeded to create laboratory models based on human tissue. This will be an important step towards the understanding of brown fat and potential treatment of obesity.
Being part of the Sapere Aude programme has enabled Morten Lundh to strengthen the impact of his research by launching advanced trials relevant for understanding how brown fat burn excess energy in humans. Towards this end, Morten is currently a visiting research fellow in Yu-Hua Tseng’s Lab at the Joslin Diabetes Center, Harvard Medical School, MA, USA, where the discovery of the existence brown fat in adult humans took place originally. Secondly, Lundh hopes that this recognition strengthens his position towards his goal of eventually getting his own research group in Denmark.
The research project's scientific title: Afadin, a novel putative regulator of brown fat
Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen
Harvard Medical School, Joslin Diabetes Center, USA