Profile of the Department

According to the current Diabetes Atlas of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), around 9.5 million Germans are currently diagnosed with diabetes. About 95 percent of those have type 2 diabetes, which is usually caused by a complex interplay of genetic, epigenetic and lifestyle factors. Affected people react insufficiently to the hormone insulin (insulin resistance), which leads to increased blood glucose levels. As a result, strokes, heart attacks, retinal damage, kidney damage and neuropathies can occur. Since this metabolic disease develops slowly, the diagnosis is often made relatively late when the first damage has already occurred.

In the course of type 2 diabetes development, overeating and obesity often lead to fatty liver, which is accompanied by a decrease in insulin sensitivity. This together with increased blood glucose and fatty acid levels, ultimately affects insulin secretion from the pancreatic beta cells.

The aim of our department is to find new disease genes and epigenetic alterations that lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes. We base our studies on various mouse models and translate our findings to humans. Another goal is to investigate how different diets and eating patterns influence the development of obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

The terms obesity and diabetes genes mean that the function of the genes is affected by mutations in the genome. Epigenetics summarizes mechanisms that influence the activity of genes without changing the DNA sequence. This is possible, for example, by chemically changing certain bases of the DNA through methylation or by permanently influencing the activity of several genes by so-called non-coding RNAs (e.g. microRNAs).