Karolina Skibicka has been awarded the Novo Nordic Foundation Excellence Award, over DKK 5,000,000, which she will use to take the next step toward a completely new way of treating overeating. She and her colleagues, researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy, discovered in 2012 a way of decreasing the appetite of rats using a specific intestinal hormone. Recently they went on to show that this same hormone also has a moderating effect on the craving for alcohol.
Obesity is a major health problem in the Western world, and the number of overweight individuals is rising alarmingly. Hunger, however, is not the driver of unhealthy eating. Overeating, like alcohol consumption, is controlled by the reward center of the brain. It is stimulated by calorie-rich foods in the same way as by narcotics, which explains what makes it so difficult to eat less and lose weight.
There are, however, chemical means of blocking the reward reaction, thus decreasing the urge for both food and alcohol.
Intestinal hormone in focus
Karolina Skibicka and her fellow researchers at the University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Academy have focused their recent work on an intestinal hormone known as GLP-1. In a study on rats conducted in 2012 these Gothenburg researchers showed that stimulation of GLP-1 blocks the reward system in the brains of mice. A follow-up study published in PLOS One on April 17, 2013 shows that GLP-1 stimulation also blocks the urge for alcohol.
Karolina Skibicka has been awarded The Novo Nordisk Foundation Excellence Award for her discoveries. She plans to dedicate the prize sum, over DKK 5,000,000, to a study of how GLP-1 works in greater detail.
”We plan to investigate whether GLP-1 can block the way calorie-rich foods activate the reward center in the human brain as well. This should make it easier to resist unhealthy eating,” says Karolina Skibicka.
New treatment methods
The objective is to develop new methods for treating obesity.
“This is a long-term project in which we hope to have a detailed look into the inner workings of the brain, studying the neurons and genes associated with rewards. By learning more about the mechanisms underpinning overeating, we also hope to find new ways of treating the problem.”
Karolina Skibicka is thirty-two years old, and one of two young Swedish researchers to share the 2013 Novo Nordisk Foundation Excellence Award.
WHO – facts on obesity:
- Since 1980 global obesity prevalence has doubled.
- In 2008 it was estimated that more than 1.4 billion people over the age of 20 were overweight. Approximately 500 million of them are obese.
- Sixty-five per cent of the people on earth live in countries where there is more mortality from overweight than from starvation and malnutrition.
- In 2011 more than 40 million children under the age of five were estimated to be overweight.
- Roughly half of everyone in Sweden is overweight. Sixteen percent suffer from obesity.