On April 27th, the prize for thesis of the year was awarded by SDF, Svensk diabetologisk förening, at a banquet at Diabetesforum. The award went to Leif Väremo.
– I was really surprised, I do not even know how they found me, Leif Väremo said as he received the news.
– The price money is 20,000 SEK and are to be used to study something which will add value to the health care system... Maybe I can go to a conference?
His thesis focuses mainly on the use of systems biology tools to investigate which genes are expressed – that is, which genes are active or inactive – at a particular time, thereby being able to draw some conclusions on what is happening inside the cell.
– Each cell has its DNA, with its genes. Under a given condition, for example a disease, some genes are expressed. Proteins are then formed which, in turn, have specific tasks within the cell, Leif Väremo explains.
– If we measure the expression of all 20,000 genes, how are we to translate this information into something we can understand? We need the system biology analysis tools for this. If we can see what changes at the gene level, we might understand what this means for the function of the cell.
Studies of gene expressions can be useful in research on various diseases. Leif Väremo chose to look at Type 2 diabetes, which is linked to the function of muscle cells. After a meal, for example, insulin gives signals to reduce sugar in our blood, and the majority of this sugar is absorbed by muscle cells. However, when an individual is suffering from Type 2 diabetes, the muscle cells develop insulin resistance. The muscle tissue no longer absorb sugar, and this leads to an excess of sugar in the blood.
Väremo's thesis also includes a closer look at the metabolism of muscle cells:
– We constructed a network model of muscle cell metabolism, where we map all the chemical reactions of the cell. Each step, each reaction, needs an enzyme to be catalyzed - and this enzyme is a protein that, in turn, comes from a gene. The network explains the metabolism, and if we then connect it to the gene data, we may use our network to interpret gene expression data.
With his qualified hypotheses, Leif Väremo wants to pave the way for future studies, which in the long term can lead to the discovery of new biomarkers and design of effective drugs.
– Our methods and a variety of new studies could lead to a greater understanding and more hypotheses about the factors behind Type 2 diabetes, he concludes.
Text: Mia Malmstedt
Photo: Fredrik Boulund