Professor Dr Jens C. Brüning, Heinrich Wieland Laureate 2019
Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research, Cologne, Germany
The endocrinologist and geneticist Jens Brüning is honoured with the 2019 Heinrich Wieland Prize for his pioneering research on how the brain regulates energy metabolism. He was the first to switch off insulin signalling in specific tissues in mice and thus uncovered important and surprising roles of this pathway in the development of metabolic disorders. For example, he established insulin as a critical signal for the brain to promote weight loss. In addition, he discovered that so-called Agouti-related peptide (AgRP) neurons in the hypothalamus are master regulators of food intake, glucose production in the liver, and whole body insulin sensitivity. More recently, he found evidence in mice as to why the children of obese mothers may face a higher risk of developing diabetes or obesity, a long-known clinical phenomenon: If mice are on a high-fat diet during breastfeeding - the developmental time equivalent of the last trimester of human pregnancy-, the neuronal circuit that normally suppresses appetite cannot form in the hypothalamus of the pups. In addition, he has shown that the gene FTO, which is often linked with obesity and type-2 diabetes, plays a fundamental role in the control of energy expenditure, likely by changing the way neurons in the brain communicate with each other. By unravelling how neuronal circuits in the brain control the uptake, storage, and consumption of energy in the body, Brüning discovered fundamental physiological principles that will help to understand and cure prevalent metabolic diseases.
Jens Brüning studied medicine at the University of Cologne, followed by a residency in internal medicine from 1992 to 1994. For his post-doctoral research, he joined Professor C. Ronald Kahn at Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA. In 1997, he returned to Cologne to continue his residency in internal medicine and endocrinology and set up an independent research group. He obtained a tenured professorship at the Institute for Genetics at the University of Cologne in 2003, and four years later, he became coordinator of the Cologne Excellence Cluster "Cellular stress responses in aging-associated diseases (CECAD)". In 2011, he was appointed Director of the MPI for Metabolism Research and Director of the Policlinic for Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Preventive Medicine at the University Hospital of Cologne. Jens Brüning received many prestigious awards including the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the Minkowski Prize of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, the Ernst Jung Award for Medicine, and the Carl Friedrich von Weizäcker Prize. He is an elected member of EMBO, the Academy of Sciences and Arts in North Rine-Westphalia, and the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.