Further funding for research on obesity in CBBM

Dr. Henriette Kirchner receives a further 1.3 million euros from the German Research Foundation for her research group at the CBBM

Dr. rer. nat. Henriette Kirchner, Medical Clinic I of the University of Lübeck and the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein, Campus Lübeck, will be further funded for her research on the development of overweight and diabetes type 2. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation), after reviewing the research successes achieved to date, granted her 1.3 million euros for a further three years.

800,000 euros had already been approved in October 2019, and an additional 500,000 euros have now been allocated for the complex gene sequencing using the Next Generation Sequencing method. This new additional project focuses on the time course of epigenetic dysregulation in the liver during the development of type 2 diabetes ("Time-resolved cartography of the hepatic methylome and transcriptome during type 2 diabetes patho-genesis").

The work of Dr. Kirchner and her research group has already been funded with one million euros from 2016 onwards as part of the DFG's Emmy Noether Programme for the promotion of outstanding young researchers. She is pleased about the positive assessment of their work to date. With regard to continued funding, which will probably continue until May 2022 and thus even beyond the originally approved project duration, she says: "For an Individual Grant from the DFG, this is an extremely gratifying sum.

Extreme overweight (obesity) and type 2 diabetes mellitus have become common diseases worldwide, but despite intensive research, the exact mechanisms contributing to the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes are not yet fully understood. Our genes are partly responsible for this, and so body weight and the risk of developing diabetes can be inherited proportionately. Environmental factors such as diet, stress and physical activity also have an important influence on the development of the disease. Epigenetic mechanisms are the link between genes and the environment because they can influence gene activity depending on the type of current environmental influences.

For this reason, Dr. Kirchner's project "Epigenetic regulation of hepatic gene expression in the pathogenesis of insulin resistance" at the Center of Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM) at the University of Lübeck is investigating the extent to which epigenetic DNA methylation is involved in the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes. The hypothesis that lifestyle factors alter DNA methylation in the liver and thereby negatively affect the activity of the liver genes is being tested. This could then, it is assumed, lead to the development of obesity, insulin resistance and ultimately type 2 diabetes.

To test this hypothesis, Dr. Kirchner's group is studying liver samples from patients and is also conducting mechanistic studies in laboratory mice and cell culture. Their characterization of these new epigenetic regulatory mechanisms could contribute to a better understanding of obesity and diabetes development and lead to promising strategies for new therapies against obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Henriette Kirchner studied nutrition science at the University of Jena and did her doctoral thesis in the laboratory of Prof. Matthias Tschöp at the University of Cincinnati in collaboration with the German Institute of Nutrition Research (Potsdam Rehbrücke). Afterwards she did her postdoctoral work at the Karolinska Institute in the laboratory of Prof. Juleen Zierath and learned epigenetic analyses there.

The Emmy Noether Program is a program introduced by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in 1997 to support outstanding young scientists. It is named after the German mathematician Emmy Noether. Within the framework of this program, participants are to be qualified for university teaching by leading a junior research group.

Research group of Dr. Henriette Kirchner: Christin Krause (PhD student), Martina Grohs (technician) und Helen Sievert (medical student, from left to right top) sowie Cathleen Geißler (PhD student) and group leader Dr. Henriette Kirchner (from left to right bottom)