Diabetes research

ERC Advanced Grant for Prof. Dr. Matthias Tschöp

Neuherberg, April 20, 2016. The diabetes expert Prof. Dr. Matthias Tschöp has been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant for his work in the field of metabolic research. This highest grant of the European Research Council (ERC) will provide funding amounting to 2.48 million euros over the next five years. Professor Tschöp is investigating the association of inflammatory reactions in the brain with obesity and diabetes.

Prof. Tschöp

Prof. Dr. Matthias Tschöp, Source: Helmholtz Zentrum München

Despite intensive efforts and educational work by policy makers and biomedical research, the incidence of type 2 diabetes and related metabolic diseases is rapidly increasing throughout the world. At the same time, safe and effective therapies to address the causes of the disease are lacking. This year’s World Health Day on April 7th – a campaign of the World Health Organization WHO – selected diabetes as its theme in order to raise awareness about the risks of the disease.

“Our lack of understanding of the disease mechanisms is certainly one reason for the difficult situation,” said Tschöp, director of the Institute for Diabetes and Obesity at Helmholtz Zentrum München. While many approaches are aimed at understanding the causes at the level of nerve cell clusters, he and his team are focused on the communication between different cell types in a specific region of the brain – the hypothalamus.

Too many calories promote inflammation in the brain

The hypothalamus is considered to be the most important control center of the autonomic nervous system. It regulates basic functions such as blood circulation, body temperature and sexual behavior, but also the intake of food and the cell metabolism in adipose tissue and the liver. Thus, the hypothalamus is the focus of Tschöp’s project HypoFlam, for which he and his colleagues received one of the prestigious ERC Advanced Grants to promote their research.

The HypoFlam project is based on the observation of the researchers that increased intake of fat and sugars leads to immune responses in the hypothalamus. Following the consumption of high-calorie food, processes take place in the hypothalamus that are typical after injuries to brain tissue such as reactive gliosis.

Possible cause of diabetes

“Our hypothesis is that the increased intake of calories leads to inflammation-like processes in the hypothalamus, which is thus impaired in its function,” said Tschöp. “The consequence would be a further loss of control, resulting in increased overweight and diabetes.”

Now, within the scope of the HypoFlam project, the researchers hope to elucidate these underlying mechanisms. “Our goal is to identify the cellular control and communication processes and to find targets where we can intervene,” said Tschöp. “If that succeeds, we can develop precise, personalized therapies to treat the cause of diabetes and obesity and not wait to intervene until the cell communication in the control centers is already irreversibly disturbed.”