EASO Newsletter November 2016

The 24th European Congress on Obesity (ECO2017) will take place in the beautiful city of Porto from 17 to 20 May 2017.

Help us to design a programme for you! The call for abstract submissions is now open. We have listened to delegate feedback and have made special efforts to highlight poster presentations in 2017. We will organise guided poster sessions (at lunchtime with minimal competition), there will be a poster pitch session as part of the parallel programme, and we will host a posters networking reception with refreshments. Be a part of this programme.

We look forward to welcoming you to Porto, one of the most popular city break destinations in Europe.

EASO is celebrating its 30th anniversary!

30 Years of EASO

We are delighted to announce the 30th anniversary of the founding of EASO this year. Looking back on EASO’s history reveals an impressive success story and encourages all of us to tackle current and future challenges in the field of obesity.

Read the history of the organisation on the Obesity Facts website.

obesity facts

We are pleased to announce that the latest issue of Obesity Facts, 2016 issue 5, is available online. View the issue on the OFA website.

We are delighted to announce that the Impact Factor of OBESITY FACTS has improved further. The 2015 Impact Factor of OBESITY FACTS is 2.400, compared to 2.245 in 2014.

who-urges-policy-makers-to-tackle-hidden-digital-marketing-of-unhealthy-food-to-childrenWHO Urges Policy-Makers to Tackle Hidden Digital Marketing of Unhealthy Food to Children

A new and comprehensive analysis of digital marketing to children of foods high in fats, salt and sugars in the WHO European Region is now available. In the absence of effective regulation of digital media in many European countries, the WHO European region calls for immediate action by policy-makers to recognize and address the growing challenge of marketing targeted to children via digital media.

Read the publication on the WHO website.

SONY DSCEASO New Investigators United Award Winner: Spotlight on Sini Heinonen

“In my thesis work, which is to be published this week, I have investigated the biological pathways in adipose tissue that lead to the development of metabolic complications in early-onset obesity in young healthy twins. The aim of the work was to study how acquired obesity affects adipose tissue and adipocyte function and how this links to whole body metabolism.”

Read the full interview.

Jason HalfordFive Questions with Jason Halford

We spoke with Professor Halford, co-founder of both the Human Ingestive Behaviour Laboratory at The University of Liverpool and the Liverpool Obesity Research Network (LORN) about his work in appetite and behaviour and learned about his most recent work.

Read the interview.


MooDFOOD is a multidisciplinary consortium involving 13 organizations in 9 European countries, using a unique integrative approach which combines expertise in nutrition, consumer behaviour, psychiatry and preventive psychology.

View an updated webcast on the project website.

International Postgraduate Programme in Epidemiology

EASO is pleased to share information about the International Postgraduate Programme in Epidemiology (IPPE) in Tampere, Finland for 2017- 2018. The programme is open for applications between 14 November 2016 and 13 January, 2017.

International Postgraduate Programme in Epidemiology

Sven SchubertEASO Patient Council Spotlight: Sven Schubert

“A big computer nerd, I love science fiction and history. I speak German, English, some French, Czech, tiny bits of Dutch, Norwegian, Polish and Russian and am currently trying to learn Irish and Mandarin. I thoroughly enjoy a good book at home as much as an adventurous road trip. Did I mention that I love and ride motorcycles?”

Read the interview.

Media Masterclass – New Presentations on EASO Media Portal

EASO is pleased to share four excellent new presentations on the Media Portal. Learn more about obesity stigma from the HCP, youth and patient perspectives and see the latest research on Leptin and its effect on the brain.

Media Masterclasses

ViennaLocations Announced for ECO 2018 and ECO 2019

EASO looks forward to hosting the 25th annual European Congress on Obesity (ECO 2018) from 23-26 May 2018 in beautiful Vienna.

In 2019 we are delighted to host the ECO in Glasgow.

Please check the EASO website for dates and more information coming soon.

EASO New Investigators United Award Winner: Spotlight on Sini Heinonen

sini-heinonen-1Hello Sini. It’s great to have the opportunity to interview you.  Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up in Tapiola, near Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Tapiola is a garden city with a very peaceful atmosphere, and I had a secure and happy childhood with my family which included both parents and a brother. Although I was interested in almost every subject at school, the most excited I got about subjects related to science; mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and geography. These subjects opened up a whole new world to me, and provided new realms to explore. As a child, I also read a lot of science magazines. I completedhigh-school with top grades and after graduation I began study at the University of Technology in physics, chemistry, mathematics and other life sciences. At that time, I also started a two-year professional education in the Finnish National Opera Ballet School in order to become a professional ballet dancer. I had actively danced since childhood and wanted to try dance at a professional level for a few years. During the next five years I studied part-time and danced professionally, both in the Finnish National Ballet and across Europe.  

In high school I was interested in medicine and medical research, partly due to my dance background and also because it seemed to combine mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology, all of the subjects that felt close to my heart. So, in spring 2008 I concentrated in studying for the entrance examinations and applied in to the Medical Faculty of the University of Helsinki.  

My medical studies started in autumn 2008 and I started my research at the same time. This work was later to become my thesis work. I met Professor Aila Rissanen from the Obesity Research Unit of University of Helsinki in the summer 2008 before my studies commenced and she enrolled me in her research group. Associate Professor Kirsi Pietiläinen became my supervisor. I applied and was accepted into the competitive MD/PhD programme in the Faculty of Medicine (Doctoral Programme in Biomedicine), which enabled me to do my medical studies and my PhD in medicine simultaneously.  

During the three to four first years, we extensively collected samples from our study cohort of young identical obesity-discordant twins. In 2013, I finally started writing the first article of my own. After graduating as an MD in the spring of 2014, I continued my thesis with full-time research work in our unit, the Obesity Research Unit and FinMIT – Center of Excellence in Research on Mitochondria. At that time I was also awarded the Best Licentiate Thesis Award of the Year 2013 by the Faculty of Medicine for my work. Gradually, my first articles were being published from 2014 on and some also received media attention, like the study on metabolically healthy and unhealthy twins with obesity in Diabetologia in 2014, and another study on mitochondrial biogenesis, which was published in Diabetes in 2015 alongside a companioneditorial on the subject.  

We would love to learn more about your country and the area in Finland you live in. 

Finland is a wonderful country to live in. We have such a lot of nature and wilderness, but we are still a very modern country with educated people and safe and peaceful surroundings. The standard of scientific and medical research is very high. We are often in the front line in terms of technology and innovation, which enables progress and makes doing research here very interesting. Finnish people can often appear quiet and reserved at first glance, but are friendly, helpful and trustworthy when you get to know them better. They keep their word and are also hardworking and perseverant. Finnish nature is beautiful especially in the summer with long light nights. We have a lot of forests, lakes and wild animals. In winter, Lapland is a great place to see, and snow makes everything so bright. However, it may also be very cold during the winter months and during the time before the snow falls in November and December it is definitely very dark, rainy and windy. The amount of light in the southern Finland can be only 6 hours and in the north there is no daylight at all. I live in the Helsinki area, which is the capital city of the country and the surroundings which arehome to over 1 000 000 people. By European standards however, that might be considered a small town. Finland indeed is a sparsely inhabited country with only around 5.5 million people and 15 people/square kilometer. 

How did you come to enter the field of obesity?  

Already before my medical studies I was interested in medical research and the MD/PhD programme based within the Faculty of Medicine in the University of Helsinki. However, my entryinto the field of obesity, adipose tissue and mitochondria was very much a coincidence. Before starting my medical studies, I met Professor Aila Rissanen of our Obesity Research Unit onan unrelated occasion in the summer 2008, which resulted inher telling me that she wanted me to work in her unit. I started working with my supervisor MD and Associate Professor Kirsi Pietiläinen by helping to take adipose and muscle tissue samples from our twin subjects, handling the samples, learning to extract pure adipocytes and their RNA and DNA from tissue, visiting our collaboration laboratories, Professor Peter Arner’s Lipid laboratory in Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm as well as Gema Fruhbeck’s Metabolic Laboratory in Pamplona, Spain, to acquire more biomedical techniques and then gradually acquiring data of my own and writing my first article. Both Kirsi and Aila trusted me with big and important projects, like extracting the RNA and DNA of our valuable twin material. All my research work I did in addition to my full-time medical studies – during weekends, holidays and summers.  

Gradually, as my studies and the other studies from our group on adipose tissue and adipocytes progressed, we started concentrating more and more on the mitochondria in adipose tissue. This was because all the gene expression results between the twins suggested that mitochondrial function and its various components were one of the most affected and changed gene-expression pathways between the obese and the lean identical co-twins that I was investigating. Particularlyintriguing was the fact that the changes in mitochondria-related gene expression, and in my later studies, differences in protein levels between the obese and the lean co-twins were seen at a very early stage in acquired obesity, in clinically healthy young twins, with a relatively short history of obesity. We also discovered that there were differences in the responses of obesity, possibly based on genetic differences between individuals, because some of the obese twins had more pronounced metabolic problems, more liver fat and larger adipocytes than other, similarly obese twins. And interestingly, there was also a difference in mitochondrial gene expression between these two groups.

In basic scientific research I am interested and intrigued by the possibility of producing something that in due course could help patients through understanding the basic principles of a disease and through the development of new medicines and new treatment strategies. I also like the basic research work in itself, because it is very variable and includes both clinical and laboratory aspects, writing, acquiring new information and learning new things every day. 

Congratulations on winning the highly competitive 2016 EASO New Investigators Basic Science prize. Please help us learn more about your thesis and present research interests:

In my thesis work, which is to be published this week, I have investigated the biological pathways in adipose tissue that lead to the development of metabolic complications in early-onset obesity in young healthy twins. The aim of the work was to study how acquired obesity affects adipose tissue and adipocyte function and how this links to whole body metabolism. Of special interest were the mitochondria and their function in obese adipose tissue. The rare weight-discordant monozygotic (MZ) co-twin setting used in the studies is uniquely positioned to disentangle acquired and inherited metabolic pathways to disease in obesity. Identical MZ twin pairs discordant for obesity enable controlling for genetic background, age, sex and early environmental influences. As MZ twins are fully identical at the level of genome sequence, the observed differences between co-twins can be assumed to be acquired. This is a major strength in a study regarding a polygenic and multifactorial trait as obesity.

Adipocyte hypertrophy in adipose tissue is one of the main features of obesity. The first study of my thesis investigated adipose tissue hypertrophy and hyperplasia in acquired obesity and its associations to whole body metabolism and gene expression pathways of adipose tissue. We showed a high within-pair resemblance in adipocyte size and number in twins suggesting that the adipocyte phenotype is genetic or due to shared environmental factors. Hypertrophy and low number of adipocytes in acquired obesity was related to metabolic dysfunction in obesity and associated with the disturbances in mitochondrial function and with increased cell death within the adipose tissue.

In the second study we investigated how transcriptional pathways of subcutaneous adipose tissue and the liver fat associate with “metabolically healthy obesity” – a phenomenon where some of the obese individuals stay free from the metabolic complications usually associated with weight gain. We showed for the first time in twins that the amount of liver fat is a key clinical determinant of metabolic health and that low liver fat associates with maintenance of high mitochondrial transcription and lack of inflammation in subcutaneous adipose tissue.

In the third and fourth studies of the thesis I addressed mitochondrial biogenesis and oxidative metabolism in detail in adipose tissue and in adipocytes, respectively. Obesity was related to reduced mitochondrial mass and oxidative metabolic activity in subcutaneous adipose tissue, both in the nuclear and in the mitochondrial transcription level, as well as decreased protein levels in the mitochondrial respiratory OXPHOS system, especially OXPHOS complex subunits I and IV. The mitochondrial ‘dysfunction’ paralleled whole body insulin resistance and low-grade systemic inflammation. Remarkably, these changes were seen already at the early stages of acquired obesity, in young otherwise clinically healthy twins. In the fourth study, we showed that the global downregulation of mitochondrial transcriptional signature in acquired obesity originates at least partly from the adipocyte cells of the adipose tissue.

According to my work, the development of obesity seems to associate with mitochondrial dysfunction in adipose tissue. The decreased function of mitochondria was evident at the level of both nuclear gene expression and mitochondrial gene expression, as well as on mitochondrial protein levels. These changes associated with metabolic disturbances of obesity. With rare obesity-discordant MZ twins we have been able to show that these changes are not genetic but result from acquired factors. However, as there was a remarkable similarity of adipocyte number between the co-twins, responses to obesity may have a partial genetic basis. With low capacity to adipocyte hypertrophy, excess fat may accumulate to liver and other tissues. Liver fat content seems to be a clear determinant of metabolic health in acquired obesity. The results of my thesis as a whole suggest that obesity-associated metabolic disturbances might be halted by improving mitochondrial activity in adipose tissue. 

In future, I hope to further pursue research on adipose tissue, adipocytes and their mitochondria. It would, for example, be very interesting to discover which kind of nutritional cues affect the obese and the lean adipocyte cells and thus what kind of nutritional and environmental surroundings would best help to reverse the metabolic problems of obese adipocytes. 

What are your future career plans?

My dissertation will be held this month – November 2016 – and thereafter I will graduate as a PhD in Medicine. I then still have some months’ funding as a full-time researcher, which enables me to start some new projects at my current lab before February 2017, when I’ll begin to work in basic health care as a general practitioner for 10 months. This is to keep up with my medical knowledge and to acquire the European medical standards as a doctor, thus to enable me to work as an MD in all other European countries in addition to Finland. I have also enrolled in the internal medicine specialization program in the University of Helsinki and will start with the internal medicine specialization after the general practicum. I then also wish to continue with my research and later on also combine it with my clinical work. I am interested in a Post Doctoral phase in research, either in Finland or in a country abroad, and the subject could be related to my own work or to another research area. By now, I have acquired a strong set of skills in clinical research as well as in various laboratory techniques and data analyses, and it will be interesting to use and develop them further with new research ideas. I hope to acquire funding to pursue some of the interesting research plans that we have been planning in our unit on identical obesity -discordant twins and also for a Post Doc in Finland or abroad.

Aside from your professional interests, what are your hobbies and interests?

During my free time I actively teach and lead my own contemporary dance group and work as an artistic director of astudents’ dance association. I also swim a lot. Swimming in the mornings gives me a lot of energy for my work. My other interests include baking and cooking, indoor-climbing, running, travelling and non-fiction books on life sciences and medicine. I love meeting with friends and just relaxing. 

Sini Heinonen, MD, PhD elect (25 November 2016)

Sini Heinonen is an MD and a PhD Student in Obesity Research Unit, Diabetes and Obesity Research Programs Unit, University of Helsinki, Finland. 

Sini Heinonen’s work has focused on the effects of acquired obesity in obesity-discordant monozygotic twins. Her interests are the study of adipose tissue and its mitochondria. She has studied adipose tissue enlargement, mechanisms maintaining the “metabolically healthy obesity” – and the downregulation of mitochondrial biogenesis and its relation to metabolic health in obese adipose tissue and adipocytes. Sini Heinonen was awarded Young Investigator Award of the European Obesity Society in basic science in 2016. Her work has also been granted support from various Finnish medical and scientific associations, as well as the Award of The Best Licentiate Thesis of the year 2013 from the Faculty of Medicine in Helsinki. Sini Heinonen graduated as an MD in 2014 and will finish her PhD in November 2016.

Sini has worked in Obesity Research Unit and FinMIT -Center of Excellence in Research on Mitochondria since 2008. She has extended her knowledge with visits and collaboration in Metabolic Research Laboratory, Pamplona, Spain and Lipid Laboratorium, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, as well as NUTRIM School of Nutrition and Metabolism, Human Biology, Maastricht University, The Netherlands. She has presented her data in various international and national conferences since 2010. Along with her research work Sini Heinonen is in the specialist training program of internal medicine at University of Helsinki.


Five Questions with Jason Halford

Professor Halford, thanks for speaking with us.  Your research in appetite and behavior is well known and highly regarded, and readers may be aware that you co-founded both the Human Ingestive Behaviour Laboratory at The University of Liverpool and the Liverpool Obesity Research Network (LORN). What is the focus of your recent work? 

Our recent work has focused on the effects of bariatric surgery on motivation and mood, particularly issues around coping and alcohol misuse 18 months post-surgery in patients reporting no previous alcohol issues.  This work has brought us into many interesting collaborations with clinicians in the UK and across Europe, and we are currently developing a platform for a multisite study.

We continue to look at the impact of obesity and type 2 diabetes mono and dual therapies on appetite and energy balance. Working in collaboration with Dr Dan Cuthbertson and Prof John Wilding at the University of Liverpool, we are now developing protocols to analyze drug effects and inhibitor control as well as regulatory and reward function through the ENERGISE and RESILIANT projects.

Our goal remains to personalise pharmacotherapy in order to help clinicians prescribe the best available drug to meet individual patient needs.

In the policy arena, we continue our work focused on the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children, looking both at the impact of the messages themselves on child behaviour, and the extent to which regulation has (or has not) protected child health. 

As coordinator of the €8 million EU Framework Seven Satiety Innovation Project SATIN  www.satin-satiety.eu, your efforts will lead to development of novel foods for appetite control using new processing technologies to alter food structure. The SATIN project consortium includes seven small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), four industry and seven academic partners Can you tell us about your work leading this complex multi-stakeholder project?

SATIN is now in its final year and the project has helped refine an in vitro testing platform, essential to the SMEs involved, and has aided in the development of the European biotechnology sector.  It has also produced 80 prototype products, six of which have entered clinical trials and two of which have progressed into longer term studies, where data collection continues.  An ongoing multi-center study led by our colleagues in Copenhagen will examine the long term benefits of a satiety based approach to weight management.

No single food is likely to be identified as a magic bullet, but a healthy diet, containing a range of satiety-enhanced products for every eating occasion, might provide consumers a healthy and functional way of managing both appetite and energy intake. 

I understand that you are involved in a new project evaluating the impact of sweeteners on both appetite and food choice during periods of active weight maintenance. Can you tell us more?  

Yes, the SWITCH trial commenced this autumn and will carry on over the next four years.  The effects of switching to either water or low calorie sweetened beverages will be examined in the context of weight loss and weight maintenance in a design very similar to that of a recently published study from the University of Colorado.  However, we will be looking at the impact of chronic low calorie sweetener use on appetite and food choice, and attempt to discern detrimental as well as beneficial effects of low calorie sweeteners.   

Are there additional projects you are working on that the EASO community may find interesting?

We are currently working with a coaltion of colleagues in the UK to examine the relationship between household food insecurity and obesity.  In the US and other countries, data clearly demonstrate a relationship between household food insecurity and child and material obesity; the observed relationship extends to elderly populations as well. Some ethnic populations may also be more vulnerable while others may be more protected.  We note, however, that data from Europe is very limited and we currently face considerable challenges from austerity and migration.  It is likely that sessions on this theme will be held at The European Congress on Obesity 2017 in Oporto next year. 

The SWITCH study is sponsored by the American Beverage Association. How are you do you deal with the obvious potential for conflict of interest?

It is not unusual in the field of appetite research to work with industry partners, but in an area of controversy it is essential not only to register the trial and provide transparency about funding, but also to publish the protocol in advance and provide online access to information for all stakeholders. 

Clearly it is important to understand the implications of prolonged low calorie sweetener use on appetite, to determine whether this is a useful strategy in weight control (sugar swapping). Industry also has ambitious national and international recommendations around sugar reduction to meet. But it is equally important to note the limitations of research and not to over generalise from results.  This research will not examine physiological or metabolic effects of specific ingredients. There are also wider issues around the habitual levels of sweetness in the general diet.

In areas of health policy pertaining obesity (i.e. marketing to children) we do not work with industry.

Professor Jason Halford is Head of the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Liverpool and Chair of the UK Association for the Study of Obesity.

He undertook undergraduate and postgraduate study in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s focusing on satiety and the development of anti-obesity drugs; his study included early work on sibutramine. He has been involved in the behavioural assessment of potential anti-obesity drugs in pre-clinical models and humans ever since, including recent work on Rimonabant.

During the past 10 years Jason’s research has focused on drug induced weight gain, the effects of nutrients and fibre on appetite and hormone release, the effects of stress on eating behaviour, and on lean / obese differences in the expression of appetite. More recently, he has focused on the effects of branding and food promotion on childrens’ food preferences and diet. Jason is Professor at the University of Liverpool and Director of the Human Ingestive Behaviour Laboratory and the Liverpool Obesity Research Network.

Obesity Media Masterclass 2016

EASO is pleased to share four excellent new presentations on the Media Portal. This video training covers themes of obesity stigma from the HCP, youth and patient perspectives and includes hot topic coverage of the latest research on Leptin and its effect on the brain.

Obesity Media Masterclass

EASO Speaker Spotlight Interview – Ana Domingos

Greetings Ana. It was good to meet you at the European Congress on Obesity in Gothenburg. Please tell us a bit about yourself; where are you from, where did you grow up? Where do you live now?

I was born in Lisbon, and grew up in Portugal until my early twenties, when I left for New York to study at the Rockefeller University at the turn of the second millennium. Two years before, I lived in Paris for a year while conducting part of my undergraduate studies in mathematics. I moved back to Portugal 2.5 years ago to set up my lab at the Gulbenkian Institute. Time flies! One year ago I married a charming Dutchman and moved to an apartment in a lovely historical building right at the beach. We just adopted a big, adorable puppy dog!

Our readers will enjoy learning about your favourite activities, hobbies and interests outside of your professional work:

In addition to my bench work, I am also committed to reaching the public. Scientific education for the general public is the most important means of preventing stigmatization and prejudice against patients with obesity.

My participation in the Media Masterclass workshop at the European Obesity Summit in June 2016, involvement with patient organizations and various local TV shows in Portugal, as well as art projects that involve the science, such the Nexus Project at the KunstKraftwerkLiepzig, in Liepzig,Germany are important parts of my work – and my community activities.

I love to cycle! I have been a cycling commuter since my days as a student in NYC, and now I bike to work everyday along the beach.

Where I live there are few bike commuters and a big car culture, even though the weather is great. Cycling is a very efficient way to get vitamin D, exercise, and reduce my carbon print. I´m sort of a bike activist! It´s my hobby, and it takes time and engages me with the local community. Often it is like talking to a wall, but I am persistent!

We would like to learn about your work. Tell us why leptin resistance is the topic everyone is talking about!

Leptin resistance is a disease model that conceptually resembles that of insulin resistance, drawing a parallel between obesity and type 2 diabetes. Leptin resistance explains the kind of obesity that does not derive from leptin deficiency. The later can be cured by leptin injections, just as insulin deficiency can be managed with insulin injections. However, insulin injections do not cure insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes. Likewise, leptin injections do not cure leptin resistance in most cases of obesity. Thus finding biological ways to get around leptin resistance in the brain, would pave the way for the development of anti-obesity therapies.

Please tell us about your lab and current research projects.

I have 6 great female scientists working with me. My graduate student Roksana Pirsgalska, who is a fellow of the MIT/Portugal PhD Program, pushed forward a series of results which were recently published in Cell. We discovered that sympathetic (SNS) neuro-adipose junctions mediate lipolysis and fat mass reduction, and are a peripheral effector arm of leptin action in the brain. We discovered that local stimulation of SNS inputs onto white adipose tissues (WAT)  induces fat break-down and its consequent depletion. Thus targeted pharmacologic activation of SNS inputs onto WAT could represent a new strategy for the induction of fat loss that would circumvent central leptin resistance as well as the challenges of drug delivery to the brain, across the blood brain barrier. In one of our projects we aim to identify drug targets in SNS neurons innervating WAT, which are suitable for an anti-obesity therapy. We are also modifying potent anti-obesity drugs so that they target these neurons, and become suitable for long term use, and sustained weight loss without severe side effects.

How did your original interest in the field develop, and how did you come to focus on obesity?

I became fascinated by the topic of obesity when I first heard a talk by Jeffrey Friedman before he came to be my postdoctoral mentor at the Rockefeller University. This was the first time I heard about Jeff´s discovery of the hormone leptin –  a breakthrough discovery that changed the way we think about obesity. Jeff´s discovery of leptin transformed obesity into a biological problem, rather than a lack of will power relating to food intake and exercise.  The way he then explained the molecular and biological basis of obesity was truly a revalation to me, creating a new reality that is still unknown to many patients and health care providers. Jeff has been a role model and a valuable guide along with my PhD advisor Leslie Vosshall. Both are unique and interesting personalities who create science that can change society.  For me, they have been really inspiring.


Before receiving a PhD in neurobiology working with Leslie Vosshal at New York’s Rockefeller University, Dr Ana Domingos studied mathematics at the Universty of Lisbon. She started her obesity research career in 2006 at Rockefeller as a postdoctoral associate of Jeffrey Friedman, who discovered the hormone Leptin. As a postdoc, Dr Ana Domingos used optogenetic tools to identify a neuronal circuit in the brain mediating the reward value of sugar. She discovered that Leptin has a regulatory effect on this circuit, influencing how much one likes sugar. In the fall of 2013, she started the obesity lab at The Gulbenkian Institute in her native Portugal. Domingos´ lab was the first to visualize the long-time conjectured peripheral neuron-adipose junctions in the adipose tissue. Furthermore, her lab demonstrated that localized activation of these peripheral neurons is sufficient for lipolysis and fat mass reduction. Thus direct and targeted pharmacologic activation of sympathetic inputs to adipose tissues could represent a novel strategy for the induction of fat loss, and a new anti-obesity therapy that would circumvent the challenges of drug delivery to the brain.

These findings were published in Cell, and were widely disseminated in Nature and Science as well as Cell Press. Dr Ana Domingos has received widespread international recognition, including awards from The Human Frontiers Science Program and the European Molecular Biology Organization.