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The first Obesity Prize for Excellence

In January 2023, the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and the Novo Nordisk Foundation (NNF) announced that they were establishing a new prize for an agenda-setting researcher within obesity, the Obesity Prize for Excellence.

Their first recipient has now been announced. It is Ruth Loos, Professor, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen and she receives the prize for her “outstanding contribution to understanding the genetic component associated with the development of obesity”.

One reason I moved my research to Denmark was because my office is next to some of the world’s most talented researchers in translational biology.”

In 2007 Ruth Loos helped to identify the first locus on the human genome that could be associated with an increased risk of developing obesity. This paved the way for identifying the second locus on the genome related to the risk of developing obesity, and since then she has been the leading force in the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits (GIANT) consortium, which has identified more than 1,500 loci in the human genome associated with BMI, states the NNF.

“The research has required extensive collaboration between researchers in many fields because it requires more than just knowing which genes are associated with the risk of developing obesity. It also requires knowing which proteins or hormones the genes express and how they thereby affect our biology. One reason I moved my research to Denmark was because my office is next to some of the world’s most talented researchers in translational biology,” explains Ruth Loos, who is from Belgium, to NNF.

How genetics is linked with environment

This research has shown that genes that influence the brain comprise a major component of the genetic risk for developing obesity. However, environment also plays a crucial role, research has shown, and much of Loos’ current research comprises understanding how genetics is linked with environment in determining BMI. She and her colleagues initiated one of the most in-depth mappings ever of the genetics and metabolism of 10,000 people not only to determine why they have the BMI they do but also to learn more about their risk for developing such diseases as metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. The researchers will follow the participants for 25 years, but the researchers will already learn more about why people look the way they do in the early phases of the study.

Predicting who will develop obesity

The prize is accompanied by DKK 1.7 million for research, and Ruth Loos has already earmarked the funds for a project in which she and colleagues will genetically map 16,000 children and their mothers with the aim of discovering whether the proteins expressed in their blood can be used to predict who will develop obesity later in life, similar to the genetic component of obesity.

“Obesity starts early in life, so predicting who will develop obesity requires examining children. When children are 2–8 years old, they are already stuck in a weight curve that is difficult to escape. It is therefore important if we can discover which genes and proteins determine the weight curve children will follow throughout life before they reach these ages to investigate opportunities for intervening,” says Ruth Loos to NNF.

Photo of Ruth Loos: University of Copenhagen