Helmholtz hosts leading lights in diabetes research

For the sixth year in succession, the Helmholtz Diabetes Conference drew some of the world’s sharpest minds in the field of diabetes research to Munich. From 26-28 September, the experts discussed a wide range of different approaches aimed at decoding diabetes and curing this global disease.

Helmholtz Zentrum München


“The format has been established over the years and many of these internationally renowned researchers visit us regularly. So, in one sense, it almost feels a bit like a school reunion,” explains Professor Matthias Tschöp of the Helmholtz Zentrum München. Along with Professor Jens Brüning of the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research, he organized the conference, which was completely booked out. “On the other hand,” he adds, “new, outstanding talents surprise us each year with their fresh ideas and promising novel approaches to research. And as ever, achieving this mix in a relaxed atmosphere is the big challenge that we really enjoy setting ourselves.”

This year Professor Magdalena Götz (Helmholtz Zentrum München and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU)) kicked off the event with her opening keynote lecture on neuronal reprogramming and possible approaches to cell replacement therapy. Prof. Götz and her team succeeded in demonstrating that glial cells, which were once thought of simply as support cells for neurons in the developing brain, are in fact stem cells with the potential to develop into all different types of cells – including nerve cells in the brain.

Other key topics at this year’s conference were systemic approaches to diabetes and both genetic and epigenetic aspects of the disease, as well as the influence of fatty tissue on the metabolism. In addition, participants discussed new insights into feelings of satiety and the influence of the brain on the metabolism. One of the highlights in this area was this year’s Helmholtz Diabetes Lecture given by Professor Sabrina Diano of Yale University, which focused on the mitochondria in brain cells and the key role they play in the regulation of systemic metabolism.

At this year’s conference an innovative format for abstract presentation was introduced. As well as demonstrating a digital poster exhibition, six young scientists had the opportunity to present their research results as part of a data blitz session and discuss them with Christoph Schmitt, Editor-in-Chief of the newly founded journal Nature Metabolism, and Vesna Todorovic, Senior Editor at Nature.

As always, promoting young talent remains high on the agenda of the conference organizers, and this is reflected in the selection of two young scientists for the Helmholtz Young Investigator in Diabetes (HeIDi) Award. An independent jury selected Dr. Myriam Aouadi of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, and Dr. Fabiana Perocchi of the Helmholtz Zentrum München for the award from a total of 21 nominated candidates, who had presented their results during the conference. Dr. Aouadi focused on the role of phagocytes (scavenger cells) in insulin resistance, while Dr. Perocchi reported on the part played by the mitochondria in calcium-dependent metabolism and cell death. 

Baton passed to Stephan Herzig 

There was, however, a hint of melancholy at the end of the conference. As Matthias Tschöp, founder and long-standing organizer of the conference series, has now been appointed CEO of the Helmholtz Zentrum München, he handed over responsibility for the conference in future to Professor Stephan Herzig, Director of the Institute for Diabetes and Cancer at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, who will carry the successful format forward. In his closing remarks to the conference, Prof. Herzig said: “I am very much looking forward to continuing such a well-established conference and to getting to grips with putting together a conference program that will take account of the issues facing diabetes research in tomorrow’s world.” 

Following the renewed success of the conference, the international diabetes research community will be eager to find out which research areas and speakers will take center stage in 2019.

Further information

Click here for the conference website.