Main research topics:
The main study topics of this unit focus on diabetes, obesity and the metabolic syndrome.
Diabetes and the Belgian Diabetes Registry
The department of Endocrinology-Diabetology and Metabolic Diseases of the UA-AUH, also has a longstanding collaboration with the Belgian Diabetes Registry (BDR), a nationwide clinical network and interuniversity collaboration that has enjoyed uninterrupted support of FWO and FWO-Levenslijn since 1990. The BDR is part of an international consortium, and was founded to recruit Belgian recent-onset diabetic patients under age 40 (particularly type 1 diabetes), together with their first relatives, for longitudinal data and sample storage. BDR has become a powerful instrument for implementing novel or specialized tests for early diagnosis and disease follow-up (glucose monitoring), and for selecting and monitoring biologically defined populations in prevention and curative trials.
BDR data were transferred to international studies on the epidemiology, biological markers and prevention of type 1 diabetes. BDR has also prepared and successfully conducted (inter)national prevention studies in (pre) type 1 diabetes (including prophylactic insulin injections, anti-CD3 treatment and beta cell transplantation) resulting in a publication in the NEJM. UA-UZA contributed to approximately 30 papers of all BDR papers and is by itself interested mostly in the loss of beta cell function in (pre)diabetes I.
Obesity is a chronic condition that causes several health consequences. Numerous studies have shown that obesity is strongly influenced by genetic factors, with heritability estimates in the range of 80%, explaining 1.5% of the BMI variation in human populations. In a collaboration with the department of genetics, the role of five candidate genes is investigated to better understand the importance of copy number variation in the pathogenesis of obesity. This research line resulted in several peer-reviewed publications in high-impact journals including Nature and two PhDs (Sigri Beckers and Doreen Zegers).
It is recently hypothesised that the disturbance of weight homeostasis leading to obesity in humans might at least partially be influenced by endocrine disrupting chemicals, which may accumulate in the adipose tissue. These effects are studied using in vitro and in vivo approaches, analytical techniques, cell culture, genomics, genetics and epidemiological data in humans. This project is a collaboration with the department of toxicology and two LEMP units (prof. dr. Van Gaal and prof. dr. Jorens) and will result in a PhD by the end of 2014 (Eveline Dirinck).
Lifestyle and prevalence of overweight and obesity seem to differ between different types of education and this could be of importance when making health policy decisions. This was studied in overweight and obese children and adolescents. Health programs should focus on types of education with the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity and be adapted to their specific needs. This work resulted in the PhD of Dirk Vissers.
The metabolic syndrome is a major risk marker for type 2 diabetes and for cardiovascular disease. The hypothesis of the HEPADIP project is that there is a crucial role for fat accumulation in the liver in the development of the metabolic syndrome potentially disturbing lipid metabolism, insulin signalling and glucose homeostasis and/or the signalling between adipose tissue and liver. This study therefore represents an interdisciplinary project within LEMP with the hepatology department. This programme is continued with European support in the Resolve trial. A PhD on this project is scheduled to be defended end of 2014 (An Verrijken).