Scientific Research Project Title

Hypothalamic plasticity in obesity

Research Institution

University of Copenhagen

Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen (host institution) 

RESEARCH FIELD

Genetics, metabolism, neuroscience

CONTACT INFO

Phone: +45 3029 4903
E-mail: tune.pers@sund.ku.dk 

Research leader

Tune H Pers

PhD, Associate professor, born 1980

Project title

Our plastic brain and its ability to adapt to an obesogenic environment

What is your project about?

Genetic association studies have identified hundreds of genetic loci associated with obesity, however, our limited understanding of how these genetic variants modify susceptibility to obesity remains obscure. This proposal leverages large-scale human genetics and mouse single cell gene expression data to improve our understanding of how the nervous system regulates susceptibility to obesity.

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How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

Ever since I worked as a student helper at Thorkild I.A. Sørensen’s Institute of Preventive Medicine during my bioinformatics Master of Science studies at University of Copenhagen, I have been curious to understand why some of us develop obesity while others do not and why it is almost impossible to maintain a given weight loss over time.  The possibility to use computational biology, human genetics and neuroscience techniques to understand how the brain regulates our body weight is incredible exciting and meaningful.

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

A key challenge is to identify the parts of the brain modulating susceptibility to obesity. Research addressing that question is typically being based on work in rodents, however, it may not be obvious whether the results from these analyses are relevant in human obesity.  We use human genetics data to bridge this gap; we look for genetic networks impacting obesity in mice while at the same time comprising genetic variants linked to obesity in humans.  If successful, our work would strengthen the knowledge foundation needed to design more effective studies on how environmental factors modulate susceptibility to obesity in humans.

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

If successful, this research project has the potential to provide further evidence that the obesity epidemic is best reversed by directly or indirectly targeting the brain through preventive measures and treatments.  Also, further evidence on how the brain regulates susceptibility to obesity could help to reduce the prevailing stigma that obesity is a consequence of gluttony rather than dysregulation of central biological processes in the brain.

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

The Sapere Aude programme will help me to carry out key research ideas I have been developing throughout the last two years.  Moreover, I regard the Sapere Aude programme as one of the finest and most prestigious starting grants in Denmark and I am certain that it will further the international consolidation of my research group as well as strengthen my academic research career.

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Background and personal life

Apart from spending my spare time together with my wife, Benedicte, and our two young sons, Johan and Erik, I currently enjoy reading fiction and listening to classical music, especially operas, which remind me of my time at the Royal Danish Opera where I had walk-on parts in several operas and ballets.  I do also enjoy being part of the Young Academy which is part of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters and an endless source of interdisciplinary inspiration and conducive discussions on research politics.

City of current residence:
Jægersborg, Gentofte municipality

High school:
Duborg skolen (Flensborg, Tyskland)