Menarini Award 2015: The non-shivering energy burning on the trail

Prof. Sebastian Schmid was honored for his obesity research in Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT) with the Menarini Award 2015

The 15th Menarini Award, which is annually given by the German Diabetes Association (DDG) and donated by the Berlin-Chemie AG, went to Prof. Dr. med. Sebastian M. Schmid from the Department of Internal Medicine I in Lübeck. The Head of Section for Obesity Medicine was honored in the framework of the DDG annual meeting in Berlin for his outstanding research project in the field of brown adipose tissue (BAT) research. Schmid will use the prize of EUR 15,000 to further analyze the genetic and molecular mechanisms, through which BAT induces and regulates positive metabolic effects in humans.

There is a good reason why Brown Adipose Tissue is in the focus of the endocrine and metabolic research: BAT is capable of converting energy directly into body heat, thus dissipating it. “Like all the scientists working in the field of BAT research, we assume that the BAT-associated metabolic effects have a relevant share of the total energy and glucose metabolism,” said Schmid. In his own studies of glucose metabolism in BAT activation Schmid and his team were able to detect an improvement in insulin sensitivity of about 20%. “This is a relevant scale -. It is more than insulin sensitizer could reach.”

Additional energy is "burned" 

The fact that adult humans have brown adipose tissue was discovered a few years ago. Before it was assumed that it only exists in infants and rodents. “In adults, it was more or less an accidental finding in PET-CT examinations (1), which must always take place in air-conditioned rooms,” said Schmid. Brown adipose tissue is found in adults, especially in the lower neck and along the spine (2). 

BAT can produce heat without causing shivering because the respiratory chain is uncoupled by a specific protein "Uncoupling Protein 1" (UCP1), explained this year's Menarini Award winner: “In white adipose tissue energy substrate is metabolized and regularly kept in a storage form, whereas in brown adipose tissue the energy is literally burned.” This so-called non-shivering thermogenesis can significantly increase the energy expenditure of the organism. 

Studies with tempered whole body suits 

It is known that obese people have less brown adipose tissue than normal-weight people. “We also know that young women have a bit more BAT than young men. Most of BAT can be found in young, slim women,” said Schmid. Through exposure to cold BAT can be activated experimentally (3). Schmid’s cooperation partners from Hamburg were able to prove in mice experiments that an initial existing hypertriglyceridemia can be normalized by a cold-induced BAT activation (4). They also discovered a significant improvement in glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in the mice (4). “However, the molecular mechanisms between the BAT-activation and the positive effects are still unclear,” said Schmid. To explore this relationship in more detail, he is conducting a clinical-experimental study on cold-induced BAT activation in healthy, normal-weight men and women. “The first evaluations comply with our hypotheses: They show – in parallel to the animal experiments - a significant improvement in peripheral insulin sensitivity with unchanged ß-cell capacity.” 

Molecular genetic mechanisms as a causal link? 

Schmid, together with his research team, aims to characterize the underlying regulatory mechanisms of the clinically relevant findings. “The support from the Menarini Award gives us the opportunity to get an even more detailed insight into the biochemical processes: The identification and investigation of the underlying molecular genetic mechanisms is relatively complicated since we must first carry out a qualitative analysis of possible pathways in order to do the appropriate quantitative identification.” Thanks to the Menarini Award, it is now realistic to analyze and publish the research results later this year. With his findings Schmid aims to make an important contribution to the treatment of obesity or diabetes mellitus. 

Prof. Dr. med Sebastian Schmid studied medicine at University of Frankfurt and University of Lübeck. Afterwards he completed specialist training in Internal Medicine as well as Endocrinology and Metabolism.. Since 2013 Schmid has worked as consultant (Oberarzt) in the Department of Internal Medicine I – Endocrinology and Diabetology at the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein, Campus Lübeck. In December 2014 he was appointed as W2-Professor and Head of Section for Obesity Medicine at the University of Lübeck. 

Currently Schmid leads a number of research projects in TR-SFB “Plasticity and Sleep”, TR-SFB “Ingestive Behavior: Homeostasis and Reward” and GRK “Adipocyte-Brain Crosstalk”. He was awarded with the Gerhard-Mohnike-Award from the DDG in 2008 and the Prevention Award 2010 from the German Society of Internal Medicine (DGIM). Schmid is member of numerous professional associations and committees as e.g., the board of the German Society of Endocrinology, member of the editorial board of the international journals Journal of Endocrinology and Journal of Molecular Endocrinology.

Since 2001 the Menarini Award is given annually to outstanding scientific projects with focus on diabetes. Dr. Stephan Silbermann from Berlin-Chemie AG handed the Award to Prof. Schmid. Prof. Dr. Horst Harald Klein gave the laudation speech.

Source: Award Ceremony at the 50th Annual Meeting of the German Diabetes Association (DDG), May 15, 2015 Berlin

(1) Virtanen KA et al. N Engl J Med 2009; 360 (15): 1518-25 
(2) Cypess AM et al. N Engl J Med 2009; 360 (15): 1509-17 
(3) van Marken Lichtenbelt WD et al. N Engl J Med 2009; 360 (15): 1500-8 
(4) A Bartelt et al. Nat Med 2011; 17 (2): 200-5

Prof. Horst Harald Klein, Prof. Sebastian Schmid and Dr. Stephan Silbermann at the Menarini Award Ceremony (Photo: Dirk Deckbar; Copyright: Berlin-Chemie AG)

PET-CT Scan of a subject, which shows the cold-induced BAT activation in the neck area (Figure: Schmid)