The Berrie Center’s Co-Director Rudolph Leibel, MD, Christopher J. Murphy Professor of Diabetes Research, was the opening keynote speaker at the fifth annual ObesityWeek, a unique event focused on the basic science, clinical application, surgical intervention and prevention of obesity—and attended by thousands of leading researchers, policymakers and healthcare professionals from around the world. The conference took place in National Harbor, Maryland on October 29 through Nov. 2.
Dr. Leibel’s address was titled, Stem Cell-derived Hypothalamic Neurons in the Elucidation of the Pathogenesis of Human Obesity: A New Frontier. He discussed the exciting and expanding field of using stem cells to determine the effect certain genetic mutations have on obesity and metabolic disorders.
Together with colleagues, Dr. Leidel has mapped, cloned and identified mutations in the genes controlling obesity in mice, rats and humans. As well, they have recently created hypothalamic neurons from stem cells derived from human skin cells contributed by people with specific genotypes—to explore the mechanisms behind certain obesity and diabetes-related conditions, such as Prader-Willi syndrome.
Dr. Leibel and colleagues have identified genes whose function is inactivated by severe mutations. The researchers can manipulate the stem cell-derived cell types to study how the genes are expressed and how they develop.
“We can take these cells and expose them to agents to see which, based on the mutation, might be helpful in terms of getting around mutations,” Dr. Leibel said. “This is a very interesting and growing use of stem cells to really recapitulate in vitro what otherwise we wouldn’t be able to, or hadn’t been able to, do with regard to human biology.