Research fields

The IFB AdiposityDiseases concentrates its scientific studies in the six research fields: hormones, genetics, childhood obesity, baraitric surgery, neuroimaging and psychosocial aspects of obesity. The IFB-scientists also benefit from cooperating within and across the research fields.

Adipose tissue with fat cells in magnification (Photo: IFB Adiposity)

Hormones in obesity

Different hormones, so called adipokines, are produced in the adipose tissue and they influence e. g. the human metabolism. The adipose tissue thus is not only a reservoir for energy but also a hormone producer. Since more than 50 years it is known that hormones of the adrenal glands and thyroid gland influence eating behavior and body weight. Since the detection of leptin 20 years ago adipokines have been defined as factors influencing the development of obesity and its associated diseases and complications. In this research area certain adipokines are examined - and their role in the diagnosis and therapy of adiposity and its secondary diseases such as type-2-diabetes, high blood pressure and a disturbed lipid metabolism. Especially the adipokines ‘adipocyte fatty acid-binding protein’ (AFABP), vaspin and chemerin are characterized in detail.  In addition, researchers scrutinize the changes within the adipose tissue in obesity and which role the dysfunctions of adipose tissue play in the development of adiposity and its complications.

The main questions are:

  • Which adipokines contribute to the development of adiposity and its associated diseases?
  • How does adipose tissue dysfunctions lead to metabolic and vascular diseases?

The research area “hormones in obesity (adiposity)” and the cooperations with the other IFB research areas are coordinated by Prof. Mathias Fasshauer.

Research projects in the field "hormones in obesity"

The double helix of human DNA (Photo: iStock/geopaul)

Genetics of obesity

Up to 70 percent of the heritability in body weight has been attributed to genetics acting in a strong interplay with environmental factors. The majority of recently identified obesity risk genes are highly expressed in brain or known to act in the central nervous system. Genes associated with fat distribution seem to act in peripheral organs such as adipose tissue.

The main questions are:

  • Which genetic and epigenetic factors regulate body fat distribution and adipose tissue function?
  • What are the genetic determinants of adipokine release and action?

The main objectives of the research field “Genetics” are:

  • to better understand and clarify the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the associations of genetic loci/variants with obesity and fat distribution,
  • to investigate the strong interaction of environmental factors with obesity predisposing genetic variants,
  • to identify genetic determinants of adipokine release and action. Considering the neuronal components in the pathophysiology of obesity, the research field will also address the role of genes in neuronal and astrocytic network controlling body weight.

The research efforts within the “Genetics” area and the collaborative network with other research fields are mainly coordinated by the Professorships “Genetics of Obesity and Diabetes” (P. Kovacs) and “Pathogenesis of Metabolic Diseases” (M. Blüher), and by the Junior Research Group (JRG) “Functional Genetics of Obesity” (Y. Böttcher).

Research projects in the field "genetics of obesity"

adipöse Kinder - Jugendliche
Obesity in children (Photo: LIFE/Späthe)

Childhood obesity

Obesity is already developing in early childhood between the age of three to six. Although most obesity associated diseases are diagnosed only in adulthood, they start unnoticed in childhood. Even in children this can lead to health affections such as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and inflammation symptoms. In this area of research scientists look into the alterations and dysfunctions of adipose tissue in overweight children, which contribute to the development of sequelae. Samples of adipose tissue of children of different age groups are being scrutinized. With these clinical studies the correlation to the emergence of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases is being investigated. Attention is being especially given to adipokines as possible transmitters within this correlation. Furthermore, new prevention approaches are being drafted, which take into account the particular situation of childhood and of environmental factors, that have an impact on the development of adiposity.

The main questions are:

  • Which factors contribute to the dysfunction of adipose tissue, and which indicate the beginning of adverse metabolic and cardiovascular effects in children?
  • How effective and sustainable are obesity prevention and intervention approaches in children?

The research area “childhood obesity” is working in cooperation with the other IFB research areas and is headed by Prof. Antje Körner.

Research projects in the field "childhood obesity"

Adipositas Chirurgie
Prof. Dr. Arne Dietrich in the operating room (Photo: IFB Adiposity)

Bariatric surgery

In the past years the acceptance of obesity- or bariatric surgery has grown as well as the number of operations. The clinical results are convincing, however the positive metabolic changes after surgery, have not yet been understood fully. Furthermore the predictive factors that could determine which individual patient benefits from a specific bariatric operation are not known yet.

In 2013 more than 100 bariatric operations were performed at the University Clinic Leipzig (UKL). Due to the high qualitiy of the provided care, the UKL department "Bariatric Surgery" was certified as a "Competence centre for metabolic and adiposity surgery". In 2017 the certification as "Reference centre for metabolic and adiposity surgery" followed.

The major questions are:

  • How do bypass-operations influence glucose metabolism in patients with and without an exercise program?
  • Which bariatric operations are adequate for adolescents?
  • Are there alternative ventilation methods during the surgery especially for obese patients?
  • Which role does the microbiome play in the context of overweight?

The research field “bariatric surgery” comprises in addition to the focal points above also clinical studies in close cooperation with numerous clinics of the University Hospital Leipzig, e. g. with neurosciences (brain structure and function after bariatric surgery), psychology and behavioral medicine (depression, suicidal tendency, stress-syndrome etc. before and after bariatric surgery), plastic surgery (e. g. after weight loss to remove excess skin tissue). The head of the research area “Bariatric Surgery” is Prof. Arne Dietrich.

Research projects in the field "bariatric surgery"

PET Neurobildgebung Gehirn
Imaging of the brain via positron emission tomography (Graph: Swenn Hesse)

Molecular and neuro-imaging

Modern imaging methods allow an exact depiction of brain structures and functions as well as a depiction of the distribution and quantities of neurotransmitters like dopamine. They will help to better understand the brain’s role in the development of obesity.These imaging methods can furthermore show the changes in peripheral tissues, e. g. in brown fat tissue. A state of the art method is the combination of positron-emission-tomography (PET) and magnet-resonance-tomography (MRT). The aim of this research field is to learn more about the brain’s role in the pathogenesis of obesity and in eating behaviors. This could help to establish novel approaches in diagnosing and treating adiposity and its associated diseases.

Of special interest are the examinations of the interaction between brain functions and genetic markers, of the central neural basis for learning mechanisms and of mechanisms which can be found in addictive behaviors. Interesting is furthermore the communication between the brain and peripheral structure such as the adipose tissue, the gut or microbiome. The imaging examinations also help to measure how therapy programs, e. g. exercise, social or behavioral therapies, as well as bariatric operations affect these neuronal mechanisms. In future this may help to predict which therapy will be effective in an individual patient.

The main questions are:

  • Which central neural and molecular mechanisms contribute to the development and persistence of adiposity and eating disorders?
  • Which role do neurotransmitter-systems play (nicotine, dopamine, serotonin) in the central balance, the behaviour monitoring, and in learning processes.
  • Can changes due to adiposity be influenced or even reversed e. g. by behavioral therapy or bariatric surgery?

The research area “Molecular and Neuro-Imaging” closely cooperates with the Hospital for Nuclear Medicine (University Hospital Leipzig), the PET-Center, the Max-Planck-Institute for Cognition and Neurosciences, the Institute for Radio-pharmaceutical Cancer Research of the Helmholtz-Center Dresden-Rossendorf (Research Lab Leipzig) as well as the Collaborative Research Center “Mechanisms in Obesity’ of the University Leipzig (by German Research Foundation). Prof. Swen Hesse is the head of the research field.

Research projects in the field "molecular and neuro-imaging"

Social and personal living environments play a role in the development of obesity. (Photo: IFB Adiposity)

Psychosocial aspects of obesity

Psychosocial aspects are relevant for the development and perpetuation of obesity and its associated disorders. They are a crucial starting-points for therapy and prevention.In this research area scientists examine psychosocial factors within the span of life such as uncontrolled eating behaviors, psychopathology, and stigmatization due to overweight - and their reference to adiposity and its associated disorders, e. g. eating disorders. Based on the research results interventions will be developed, e. g. cognitive behavioral therapy approaches. With these obesity and its associated disorders in children, youths, and adults will be treated, and the therapeutic approaches will be evaluated.

The main questions are:

  • Which psychosocial aspects contribute to the development and perpetuation of obesity and its associated disorders like eating disorders?
  • Which psychosocial interventions are effective in the treatment and prevention of obesity and its associated disorders?

The superior aim is to contribute to a improved weight management, to physical and psychological health of the patients by researching the psychosocial basis and evidence-based interventions in cooperation with the other IFB research areas. The research area “Psychosocial Aspects” and its interaction with the other areas are coordinated by Prof. Anja Hilbert.

Research projects in the field "psychosocial aspects of obesity"