Born and raised in Düsseldorf, Germany, I attended the Technical University in Munich for a B.Sc. in Human Nutrition followed by an M.Sc. in Molecular Nutrition in the Netherlands at Wageningen University. For my Ph.D. I undertook two projects, one at the University of Nottingham in which I studied hypothalamic appetite regulation and metabolic health in a sheep model of long-term metabolic programming; and the second at the University of Alberta in Canada in which I studied the role of dietary choline intake in a rat model, again focussing on metabolic health and appetite regulation. My first post-doctoral project continued my research in the programming of hypothalamic regulation in the French Institute for Agronomical Research, INRA, in Nantes.
At the end of my CASCADE-FELLOWS project I have received a six month extension of contract from the University of Nottingham School of Medicine to continue work on the clinical study, to continue supervision of students, to finish data analysis and dissemination and prepare further grant proposals.
Brief description of research project
We are interested in the effects that maternal obesity and diabetes have on the offspring in the long term. These offspring are more likely to develop obesity and diabetes themselves and this is, in part, due to the direct effects on fetal development which result from the high-nutrient environment to which the fetus is exposed during the pregnancy. Obesity reflects an imbalance in the complex relationship of energy intake (hypothalamic control of appetite) and expenditure (a composite of resting metabolic rate and physical activity). However, whilst non-shivering thermogenesis through brown adipose tissue is known to play a substantial role in energy expenditure in adults, study of its developmental trajectory in early life has been hampered by its inaccessibility.
Brown adipose tissue (brown fat) is a specialised tissue, which produces heat. Newborns have brown fat to keep warm. What determines how much of it remains into adulthood is not known. Brown fat may be a key player in keeping overweight in check.
With this study, we aimed to determine the influence of maternal obesity and diabetes on newborn infants' white and brown adipose depots by Magnetic Resonance scan, in collaboration with the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre.
Figure 1: Distribution of brown fat in infants (Aherne, 1964)
Figure 2: Brown fat identification from coronal images by fat fraction, white arrows pointing to the region of interest.
Figure 3: White fat analysis of distribution from transverse images. Top, calculated fat-only image from multi-echo acquisition; middle, applying a threshold shows which regions are white fat tissue; bottom, we separate subcutaneous (outer, blue boundary) from visceral fat (inner, orange boundary).