15 June 2017

Jahre Prize for Young Researchers awarded to two researchers in Diabetes and DNA repair


In the course of their careers Associate Professor Signe Sørensen Torekov and Professor Simon Bekker-Jensen have made great progress within obesity, diabetes and DNA research. They are now awarded the Anders Jahre Prize for young researchers.

Each year the University of Oslo awards the Anders Jahre prizes for excellent research within basic and clinical medicine to a group of Nordic researchers. One of the prizes is reserved for young researchers and is a personal prize of NOK 500,000.

This year the prize is split between two young researchers at SUND. One is Associate Professor Signe Sørensen Torekov from the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Metabolism Center at SUND. The other is Professor Simon Bekker-Jensen from the Center for Healthy Aging and the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.

Continued Weight Loss

Signe Sørensen Torekov is awarded the prize for her research into obesity and diabetes. One of her main results is the understanding that even though the human body is geared to fight weight loss there is hope. Because after losing weight the body produces excessive amounts of the hunger hormone ghrelin in proportion to the appetite-suppressing hormone GLP-1, meaning that the body easy regains weight.

But Signe Sørensen Torekov and her colleagues’ research shows that if a person is able to maintain the same weight for a year after weight loss, the body will reach a stage where it begins to produce a lot of the appetite-suppressing hormone, while production of the hunger hormone is normalised. This offers new hope of maintaining weight loss.

She has also studied the disease long QT syndrome, which has long been considered a heart disease. Here she learned that some patients, in addition to the heart disease, were also genetically predisposed to a metabolic disease. This resulted in excess production of insulin and GLP-1 in the body, generating too low  blood sugar levels, which could potentially affect the cardiac rhythm and thus be dangerous to the patients.

‘Receiving this prize is a huge honour. It enables me to do even more research into obesity and metabolic diseases, among other things, and the underlying mechanisms and issues concerned. Ultimately, into how we can treat and prevent it’, says Signe Sørensen Torekov.

Mapped the Alarm System of Cancer Cells

Simon Bekker-Jensen is awarded the prize because he, through his basic research, has increased our understanding of how cells react to DNA damage. Cells become very ill or die if damage to their DNA is not repaired by specific proteins. Simon Bekker-Jensen has helped discover how the cells’ ‘alarm system’ works – how the cells learn that their DNA has been damaged, and how they repair these damages.

This knowledge can be used to target and streamline cancer treatment through, for example, chemotherapy, which damages the cells’ DNA. Because if we are able to weaken the alarm system of cancer cells specifically, the normal cells are able to repair themselves. The cancer cells are not and therefore die. This way basic research like the one conducted by Simon Bekker-Jensen may hold great clinical potential.

‘Receiving this prize is great; it is a great acknowledge of me as a researcher. It encourages me to do even more research into the reaction of cells to various forms of stress such as high temperatures or chemicals, which is what I am researching now’, says Simon Bekker-Jensen.

It has been 25 years since a researcher at the University of Copenhagen won the Anders Jahre Prize for young researchers.