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Professor Antje Körner, Professor of Metabolic Research at Leipzig University’s Faculty of Medicine and Head of the Metabolism Division at the Helmholtz Institute of Metabolic, Obesity and Vascular Research (HI-MAG) at Helmholtz Munich, 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 (ca. 270,000 euros), with DKK 1.7 million allocated for research. Professor Körner’s research has significantly contributed to the understanding of the origin and consequences of childhood obesity.

As a paediatrician-scientist, Antje Körner addresses the complexity of obesity by 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 epidemiological and clinical associations but to better understand the underlying mechanisms. Employing experimental research, she addresses 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 to render risk profiles more precisely 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.

With the prize money, Antje Körner plans to investigate how to identify children at greatest risk of 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 money 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 addressing 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.”

To the Helmholtz Munich press release