Published: 19-09-2012 00:00 | Updated: 13-02-2014 16:16

Prizes awarded for diabetes and metabolism research

Two researchers at Karolinska Institutet are to be rewarded for their scientific achievements, which are potentially of major significance to the treatment of diseases such as type II diabetes. Professor Per-Olof Berggren receives the Axel Hirsch Prize for his discoveries on insulin release in the pancreas, and Dr Kirsty Spalding receives the Eric K. Fernström Prize for her work on fat metabolism.

"Their research is important for diseases such as obesity, diabetes and blood lipid disorders, and could one day lead to new drugs and treatments," says Professor Martin Ingvar, dean of research at Karolinska Institutet.

Axel Hirsch Prize

Per-Olof Berggren, professor at the Rolf Luft Research Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology, Karolinska Institutet, is awarded the Axel Hirsch Prize for his discovery that insulin secretion in the pancreas is not controlled directly by nerves as was previously thought, but only indirectly by the blood. His findings have potential far-reaching implications for the future medical treatment of type II diabetes.

His results show that earlier studies on mice cannot be translated to humans. In mice, the islets of Langerhan, the part of the pancreas where the secretion of insulin occurs, contain an abundance of nerves that are in direct contact with the gland cells. It turns out, however, that in humans, the nerve system is not in such direct contact with the gland cells, but in indirect contact via the blood supply to the islets.

Last year, Professor Berggren's group also published their studies on a new signal pathway in the pancreas that is of considerable interest from a treatment perspective as well.

Eric K Fernström Prize

Kirsty Spalding, researcher at Karolinska Institutet's Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, receives the Eric K Fernström Prize for her pioneering studies on fat and adipose cell (adipocyte) turnover and their role in general metabolism. Of particular significance is her development of a novel method of dating adult human cells using the C-14 technique.

Adipocytes largely comprise carbon-based lipids. Using C-14 dating, Dr Spalding has been able to ascertain the turnover of these lipids in the adipocytes and study if the process is affected in any way by metabolic disease.

Her research has shown that lipid metabolism is different in overweight and non-overweight individuals. One crucial finding is that adipose cell lipids are not only important in the regulation of calories, but also a contributory factor in a range of diseases. Another finding is that normal obesity, which is often thought to be lifestyle-dependent, is also caused by a lower metabolism of adipocyte lipids. A third finding is a possible cause of dyslipidemia, a disease marked by abnormal concentrations of lipids (e.g. cholesterol) in the blood.

The prizes will be awarded at Karolinska Institutet's installation ceremony on 30 October.