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Obesity Prize for Excellence for Antje Körner

Awards & Grants, HI-MAG,

Prof. Antje Körner, Head of the Metabolism Division at the Helmholtz Institute of Metabolic, Obesity and Vascular Research (HI-MAG) at Helmholtz Munich and Professor of Metabolic Research at Leipzig University’s Faculty of Medicine, has been named as the 2024 recipient of the EASO-Novo Nordisk Foundation Obesity Prize for Excellence. The prize was established in January 2023 by the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and the Novo Nordisk Foundation and recognizes outstanding research or technology contributions which improve the understanding of obesity, its aetiology, complications, prevention, and management. It includes a DKK 2 million award, with DKK 1.7 million allocated for research. The research of Prof. Körner has significantly contributed to the understanding of the origin and consequences of childhood obesity.

Pioneering Research in Childhood Obesity

Too long, obesity was seen as a individual failure to adopt to a healthy lifestyle. Recent advances have revealed that obesity develops from the interaction of genetic predisposition and environmental context and risk factors that drive obesity. “However, children are not benefiting from scientific and clinical advances in this field. It is my personal goal to overcome this gap and address the particular aspects and needs of children” Antje Körner explains.

As a paediatrician-scientist, Antje Körner adresses the complexity of obesity applying a translational and holistic research approach that combines experimental cell and molecular biology, clinical and genetic studies. It is her ambition to not only describe the epidemiologicial and clinical associations but to better understand the mechansims behind. Employing experimental research, she adresses whether and how genetic and environmental risk factors contribute to obesity risk.

“By gaining a better understanding of these interactions of epidemiological and clinical associations, underlying mechanisms – with a particular focus on early alterations in adipose tissue – and the functional relevance of genetic and environmental risk factors in the development of childhood obesity and ensuing metabolic co-morbidities, we aim for precisioning risk profiles on an individual and populational level. Further, our goal is to identify actionable prevention and treatment targets and provide the evidence for better treatment response if these measures are initiated early, already in childhood.” says the researcher.

Challenges and Opportunities of Childhood Obesity Research

With her clinical background Antje Körner established unique pediatric cohorts in Leipzig to address questions on the emergence and comorbidities of childhood obesity. This research has revealed that early childhood is a vulnerable time span for the manifestation and persistence of obesity. The well-characterized cohorts were crucial to contribute to discoveries on the genetic background of childhood obesity. Extending on these clinical observations, Antje Körner pioneered work how obesity development is paralleled by alterations in adipose tissue in children, for which she has established a biobank unique in the world.

The factors that contribute to obesity development start to act very early in life. And while the co-morbidities of obesity are usually diagnosed in adulthood, their development begins in childhood. On the other hand there is a window of opportunity to tackle the development of obesity and metabolic complications in children while their metabolic systems are still developing.” says the renowned scientist.

With the Prize grant, Antje Körner plans to investigate how to identify children at greatest risk for developing obesity and early metabolic deterioration and provide scientific evidence of the sustained benefit of early intervention and initiation of treatment in these children.

“Research in children provides a unique opportunity to identify the earliest biological and environmental risk factors for obesity, preferably modifiable factors” she explains. “Once we have identified children at highest risk, our research will look at whether we can prevent or slow the progression of obesity and its comorbidities with intelligent intervention – using innovative pharmacological treatment combined with a psychological therapeutic approach.”

While the Prize grant will support Antje Körner’s research programme for the next three years, the recognition will help to increase awareness of the medical and scientific need for adressing childhood obesity as a chronic disease with lifelong consequences.  “We must ensure that children are included on national and international research agendas and overcome the treatment gap between adults and children.”


About the scientist

Prof. Antje Körner is Head of the Metabolism Division at the Helmholtz Institute of Metabolic, Obesity and Vascular Research (HI-MAG), an institute from Helmholtz Munich at the Leipzig University and the University of Leipzig Medical Center, and Professor for Pediatric Metabolic Research at the University of Leipzig.