My muscles are diabetic! – Understanding the genetics of organ-specific Type 2 Diabetes

By Sufyan Suleman, Research Assistant

Are you always thirsty? Has your appetite increased, or do you urinate more often than you used to? Do you feel tired even when you are well rested? If you answer yes to these questions, there’s a chance that an important hormone called insulin is not working properly. Insulin helps our body to control the amount of sugar (glucose) in our bloodstream. If your body starts to release too little insulin, or stops responding to the insulin that is released, glucose levels can reach higher levels. When this happens, you can be diagnosed with the disease diabetes, which can have serious health consequences if left untreated.

Insulin reaches our organs after it is released into the bloodstream by the pancreas, a small organ near the liver. Scientists have tools to calculate insulin action in different organs, such as the liver, muscles and fat storing tissues as well as the whole body. Thanks to advancements in human genome sequencing technology, we now know that insulin action is linked to our genetics (DNA), which is inherited from our parents, and which we pass on to our children. DNA linked with disease passes on to generations by this way and our goal is to identify that regions of DNA that are linked with type 2 diabetes.

At CBMR, we carry out basic research into the biological systems behind the causes and outcomes of diabetes, which might help us to develop better treatments for the disease. I joined CBMR in August 2019 and work on a project that examines how different organs react to insulin, to what extent their response is inherited, and how organ- specific insulin action is related to other diseases such as heart and blood pressure problems.

What we have yet to learn is if there are some specific regions of our genome that are linked to organ-specific insulin action. We also don’t know if those organ-specific genetic regions are hereditary and if so which of these genetic regions are actually involved in reducing the effectiveness of insulin.

Answering these questions is the aim of an exciting new project I am working on, which combines blood glucose and insulin readings, effectiveness of insulin action in different organs, together with organ-specific genetic data from all those sample and state of the art computational technologies. At CBMR we have all the resources we need, including several group of samples from families and general population. The research will help us to create an organ-based risk score for individuals at risk of developing insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes. After the successful completion of the project, this risk score could be used by physician to guide individuals for better management and prevention strategies and to predict other diseases that are linked with type 2 diabetes The risk score can also tell us how the other diseases contribute to the development of diabetes. Drug development agencies might also be interested, as the research could provide new drug targets and open window for precision medicine.

Laughing at (with?) science

By Kristin Hussey

The lockdown has brought many challenges but one of its unexpected benefits has been the growth of digital conferences, lectures and events that allow us to tune in no matter where we are in the world. My favorite science comedy night in London, Science Showoff, even moved itself to the virtual world, and last week I took the opportunity to present my own comedy ‘set’ about my work with circadian scientists at CBMR.

Postdoc Kristin Hussey.

Science Showoff, Copenhagen’s Science and Cocktails and many other science-comedy events, podcasts and youtube channels are thriving in our virtual ‘new normal’, so I thought I would reflect a bit further on humor and what it brings to science communication.

Learning and laughing
Studies have shown that humor can be an effective tool in science communication (Riesch 2015; Pinto and Riesch 2017). In a study published just this month in Public Understanding of Science, researchers examined this trend for science comedy by studying whether test subjects perceived science comedy as ‘an appropriate source of information about science’, and indeed whether they felt the scientists themselves were credible sources of information (Yeo et al. 2020). They found that people did think that comedy was a valid source of scientific information, but how much they trusted the information was mediated by how ‘expert’ they perceived the ‘comedian’ to be. 

This episode of the Science Comedy Paradox investigates the mechanics and science of what makes a good virtual comedy show.

With that in mind, I feel I have to start by saying I’m not an expert in making science funny. But I have watched a good amount of science comedy and I’ve tried my hand at it a few times. So, I thought I would tell you what I’ve learned so far about laughing at (with?) science.

Know your audience
I anticipate it’s mostly CBMR scientists who are reading this blog so I’ve started it off with some peer-reviewed studies. You are welcome.[1] But seriously, if you are doing science comedy or any kind of science communication, it should look different if you are talking to a group of school children, or a bar full of slightly inebriated 20-somethings, or indeed, your colleagues at a conference. I would not even know where to begin with comedy for an audience full of scientists – but this is probably something you already know how to do. It’s all about in-jokes and making fun of the technical absurdity of your field. Acronym based jokes for example – everyone loves them.

I’ve only really done science comedy for a ‘general public’ audience, even though – let’s be honest –that is a uselessly vague term.[2] If you are doing a set at a night like Science Showoff or Science and Cocktails then the audience is pretty self-selecting – it is mostly composed of people in there 20s and 30s who have a pre-existing interest in science. This is a great starting point because they are already primed to laugh at (with) you – and the fact that they probably think of themselves as ‘science nerds’ is a good foundation for some identification with your audience. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they have any prior knowledge about your particular subject area. So the next step is – what are you going to talk about?

A photo of someone doing standup.

Offer a fresh perspective
In my experience, this question is often what keeps people from wanting to try science comedy. How do I pick an appropriate subject or topic? It is true that it is pretty difficult to make jokes about the specific, technical nature of your experiments given the immense amount of prior knowledge people would need to understand it. But, at the same time, there’s no point in talking about a subject so general that anyone could be doing your set (because that’s just a waste of your expertise).

The best comedy sets are often those where someone has been able to identify a smaller aspect of their work and then look at it from an unusual angle – hopefully one that is at least a little bit relatable to non-science people. A particularly crude (but still hilarious) example was a set I saw recently with a gastroenterologist who did eight minutes on the weird anuses of nature. People loved it.

I tend to do comedy sets about what I call ‘weird science’, which you could think of as just observational comedy about science. Or maybe just unusual stories told well. Science is full of strange or unexpected stories – of experiments gone wrong, of new discoveries, of bizarre coincidences, crossed-wires, misunderstandings, and inter-personal problems. Unravelling these stories isn’t exactly joke-telling but it can still be funny and informative.[3]

For example, at my recent Science Showoff set I decided to talk about the early cave experiments by circadian rhythm researchers. I don’t have to work very hard to explain why a scientist and his erstwhile grad student trapped in a cave for 30 days is funny. The audience seemed to respond particularly well to this photo, below, of physiologist Rütger Wever and one of his (grad student) participants in the Andechs Bunker experiments. It is often this human side of science, the stories of everyday people behind the science, that people respond well to.  

A photo of physiologist Rütger Wever and one of his (grad student) participants in the Andechs Bunker experiments.
Physiologist Rütger Wever and one of his (grad student) participants in the Andechs Bunker experiments.

Be yourself!
As a final thought, I would say that when doing science comedy lean in to your own sense of humor. Do you find the set you’ve written funny? Some people like telling jokes with punch lines, some people like puns, and some people like making silly PowerPoint slides. Everyone’s idea of comedy is different and attendees at a science comedy night are first and foremost interested in you – who you are, what your science is, why you do it and why you enjoy it. It would be so boring if there was just one way to make science funny – so all you can do is find what works for you and most importantly, just give it a try!

Follow Kristin Hussey on Twitter: @kristin_hussey

[1] Did this joke work? My husband has declared it ‘too dry’ – wrong audience I guess.

[2] As a rule of thumb, I always try to ask myself – is this something an 8 year old would understand? If yes, its probably the right level for a public science communication talk.

[3] Whether science communication should actually be ‘educational’ is a whole other topic.

How the pandemic led me down a research rabbit hole

By Mario García Ureña

Sometimes being a researcher – or a student aiming to be one – is a lot like being Alice in Wonderland. The book is often read as a critique of Victorian era nonsensicality, but because of its fantastical setting and myriad of characters, it can be interpreted in a thousand ways. It’s about an escape from boring reality, which is sometimes the same in science.

Of course, science is all about quantifying reality. But it is true that the whole procedure can be so time-consuming that we often end up entering in the rabbit hole of our very specific field, which can be very difficult to dig our way out of.

A photo of Mario García Ureña who is a Master student in the Kilpeläinen Group.
Mario García Ureña is a Master student in the Kilpeläinen Group.

Over the past few months, I have been working with Mendelian Randomization, specifically Two-Sample Mendelian Randomization. This method allows us to “find” causality between traits simply using summary statistics from genome-wide association studies (GWAS). GWAS summary statistics contain information on the association between traits, or diseases, and changes to individual letters in our genetic code (SNPs). With that information taken from individual data, two-Sample MR tests can be done in five minutes, without the necessity of genotypes, which means that everyone is running MR tests and publishing them like crazy before the fad fades out.

But understanding that your data is not violating some very delicate assumptions, or how the many models work to control for pleiotropy and heterogeneity…, oh boy, that is another matter entirely. I have entered the rabbit hole of MR and I haven’t quite got out of it.

Of course, this brings frustration, since focusing too much on the parts does not let you see the whole. This especially rings true in corona times. I work every day from my room, which is where I mostly rest afterwards and the parallel between working on a niche field and living in a niche magnifies the frustration.

While Zoom/Teams/Skype meetings are doing their best to fill the gap of previous meetings and help us to keep up with the work of your group or the center, the feeling is, unfortunately, not the same. For a week, I thought I worked at the Center for Mendelian Randomization – I forgot what metabolism even was.

I don’t want to end with a sour note, because we are already surrounded by them in the news. While things are slowly going back to normal, I too have managed to both adapt to the new normality and wait in hope for the old one. To avoid the tedium I have rearranged my room’s furniture so the bed and sofa are far from the desk. That way I physically divide my work and rest areas. I also spend more time reading papers and going to whatever meeting I can to keep up with what is going on – beside outlier extraction with the least cherry-picking possible.

It is not easy to find the balance between rest and work, between the parts and the whole, but by going through these times we might become the best generation of scientist at doing so! 

Faces of CBMR: Florentina Negoita

Florentina Negoita started a Postdoctoral Fellowship at CBMR in April, when she joined the Sakamoto Group. In this interview, she explains the factors that led her to pursue a career in research, the reasons for joining CBMR, and the scientific questions she hopes to pursue. But we start by asking how she has faced the challenge of carrying out research during a lockdown.

A photo of Postdoc Florentina Negoita
Postdoc Florentina Negoita

“Due to the current situation, my wet lab work is limited and so I am spending more time on literature reading and project planning. Reading is something that has often been compromised due to my desire to perform experiments and obtain as much data as possible for publication, but its value is sometimes underestimated.

“It turns out that the strategy has its advantages and I am getting a lot of new ideas through reading papers as well as brainstorming sessions at our virtual group meetings. I have also been fortunate, to some extent, because I have been allowed to perform some experimental work this month in Lund, Sweden. My current project is a collaborative project with a lab in Lund where I recently did my postdoc and obtained some key results relevant for my current project at CBMR.

Why did you get into biomedical sciences?

Everything started with my passion for chemistry in primary and high school. I found it fascinating, followed every class, and joined the chemistry club. Due to my passion in chemistry, I participated national chemistry competitions and was happy to get prizes every year  – I got the first prize when I was in 8th grade!. I also found biology  interesting, mostly due to my many chats and discussions with my mother who is a biology teacher. When I became a university student, I decided to study pharmacy as my main subject, because I felt it is a hybrid of chemistry and biology for curing human diseases. After taking a one-year biochemistry course, I found it a most fascinating, useful, and also challenging field. I also realized that there are so many things within this field, which are not known, which makes it also even more fascinating and challenging. I was always a very curious person who asked many questions and tried to find solutions to problems. As a result of these many experiences and long discussions with my uncle who is a researcher in the area of sports medicine, I eventually decided to go for a research career in biomedical sciences.

What is the primary scientific question that you wish to address?

A photo of Florentina outside the BMC Biomedical Centre at Lund University where she previously completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship.
Florentina previously completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the BMC Biomedical Centre at Lund University.

Over the past last several years, degradation and recycling emerged as essential biological processes for maintaining cellular and tissue homeostasis. A strong basis has been developed on the relevance of the processes for maintaining a healthy state of various tissues, and methods have also been significantly advanced recently. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms are still in its infancy. My project aims to identify the key molecular mechanisms underlying these processes in metabolic tissues. I hope that the findings of our study will provide exciting, new and useful information, which might be helpful later for developing strategies for treatment of different metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.

Why did you decide to join CMBR?

My long term career goal is to establish my own research group in the field of metabolic diseases, with a special interest in degradation pathways. Besides this, I have developed a personal interest in metabolism, exercise and nutrition. During my free time I like to read a lot in these areas and, as a hobby, apply the knowledge to my fitness training.

Florentina posing before a run.
Florentina is an avid runner!

At this stage of my career, I thought that I needed to further extend my knowledge and experience in the field of metabolism. CBMR seems like a very successful and productive Center in the field. I was impressed by the Center’s high quality articles reporting novel and interesting findings, development of unique methods, and state of the art core facilities and equipment. It is a very attractive place to take my career and my knowledge to another level.

What sort of research experiences do you expect to get in the Sakamoto Group?

I have only been working in the lab for one month, but I feel like I have already learned so much. Although I have not been able to do wet lab work at the Center due to the lockdown, I have gained many other types of research experiences, which perhaps are even more important than physical lab work. The weekly Zoom group meetings are very stimulating and useful for gaining a deep understanding of the ongoing projects in the group. I gain a lot of new information and insights from the meetings and afterwards I often come up with new ideas or directions for my project or see the project from a different point of view. I feel that I am gradually broadening my knowledge and improving my thinking after each group meeting. I have improved my project planning skills and learned many tips for planning to get high-quality data. I also very much like the fact that there is excellent communications in the group. The group is very well organized and everybody knows exactly what they need to do – it seems to be a perfectly functional team. I am also very glad that I learned novel methods and sophisticated strategies within my project in order to (hopefully) get high quality data. I personally find this group as an excellent environment to do research and to develop as a researcher.

Keep up to date with the Sakamoto Lab on Twitter – Follow us @LabSakamoto

Faces of CBMR: Pamina Gräsle

Pamina Gräsle carried out a three-month internship with the Sakamoto Group, with support from the Erasmus+ programme. Originally from Germany, she has now returned to Heidelberg University to start her MSc thesis project in biochemistry.

Before she left, she took the time to answer some questions about her time at CBMR and what brought her here in the first place.

What attracted you to CBMR for an internship?

Pamina Gräsle
Pamina Gräsle

There are multiple factors that finally brought me to CBMR for an internship. My previous internship was in Edinburgh, which gave me plenty of positive experiences from going abroad into an unfamiliar country with a different language and culture. I was very interested in doing a further internship abroad and I was recommended CBMR in Copenhagen. At this point, I had already heard about its good reputation and high-quality metabolic research. With help from my supervisor in Scotland, I finally got a place in the Sakamoto Group. I was very happy about that. Due to the remarkable friendliness and openness in the facility, I really felt welcomed by CBMR’s international and English-speaking environment.

You had funding from Erasmus+ programme. Can you explain the programme?

Erasmus+ is the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe. Its budget of €14.7 billion will provide opportunities for over four million Europeans to study, train, and gain experience abroad. Internships that overlapped the current lockdown period could be funded until the end, which helped me to cover ongoing costs.

What sort of research experiences did you get in the Sakamoto Group?

To be honest, I was fascinated by the high level of organisation and motivation in the Sakamoto group. Firstly, I learned how much more effective research can be when you are well organised and focused. Secondly, I was very grateful for the guidance of my supervisor, Danial, who supported me through every single step in the first weeks of my internship. It was an inspiring time where I learned a lot about different techniques and the pros and cons of using different methods. The regular group meetings helped me to understand how important critical thinking in research is, and how essential good planning is for the outcome. After each Journal Club, the subsequent “questions, guys?” was a possibility to actively think about current research and clarify issues. Although the lockdown period was quite challenging, I also had great support while writing up my Master’s internship report.

What did you enjoy most about Copenhagen?

I must admit that the most fascinating thing for me was how Copenhagen is a real (!) bike city. I remember my first bike trip on the road with so many other cyclists and experienced the good infrastructure for bicycling. Unfortunately, I could not visit all places I wanted to, due tothe lockdown, but I really enjoyed the green parks and the city’s amazing architecture.

Do you have a final message for students considering an opportunity in Copenhagen or CBMR?

If you are looking for somewhere carrying out high-quality metabolic research, plus excellent support and equipment, CBMR is the place to be! The Center offers superb working conditions with an ideal environment for establishing international contacts, while gaining plenty of experience. In addition, Copenhagen is a perfect city to explore, with a wide range of cultural offerings to enjoy during your free time.

Keep up to date with the Sakamoto Lab on Twitter – Follow us @LabSakamoto

The lockdown thaws as CBMR’s labs start to slowly reopen

On Monday, some CBMR staff returned to their laboratories for the first time since the University of Copenhagen closed its doors six weeks ago. But it’s not a return to normal – far from it. The government has allowed for a controlled and limited reopening, which have required new comprehensive health and safety guidelines limit the number of staff on each floor, and which also require them to follow strict social distancing measures.

A photo of CBMR Lab Manager Fie Hillesø
CBMR Lab Manager Fie Hillesø

Still, staff are happy to continue their science, even in a limited capacity, reports Laboratory Manager Fie Hillesø. She is one of a few staff members who has been allowed into CBMR’s facilities in the Maersk Tower over the past six weeks, in order to carry out critical maintenance and upkeep.

What has been keeping you busy these past few weeks?

There’s lots to do while the tower has been asleep! I’ve carried out maintenance on equipment, which has had to be put on standby. Then there are packages that need to sorted and stored as some are temperature sensitive.

What’s it like to go to work in an empty tower, which is normally buzzing?

It’s very odd to be in here because there are a lot of coffee cups and things like that standing out, which makes you realise that people must have left quite quickly. We’ve been away much longer than we thought. So I’ve had to clean up a bit and throw out the garbage to make sure it doesn’t smell.

How have the new guidelines taken shape?

They have been underway for a couple of weeks. We have measured all of the laboratories to determine how many staff can be in them at one time, while maintaining a safe distance. Group Leaders have also had to prioritise their research and decide which staff can come in and when. And a lot of work has gone into implementing new disinfection and cleaning procedures – there is disinfectant and ethanol wipes everywhere!

I understand that you’ve been sharing the lab upkeep responsibilities with some colleagues, and worked from home the other days. What’s home life like at the moment.

I have two kids at home that need to be home schooled, which is a lot. The younger one got to go back to school this week, but the older one is still at home. It’s been nice to eat breakfast together and not have to deal with the stress of the pick up. But the first week I definitely felt a bit guilty because it was hard to both work and help the little one with their homework! Then we developed a routine to divide up the time and we got adjusted.

The first staff returned this Monday, what was that like?

A photo of Lewing Small
Postdoc Lewin Small, finally back in the lab!

People were so happy! There aren’t that many, only six per floor so it’s not full of life still, but people are very happy to be back and can start up slowly. My main job now is to organise the shift plan so that people know when they are allowed to be here. People send me their wishes and I try to give them slots that they can use – if they need to be in for a specific number of days in a row or if they are more flexible. We put it into an online booking system so that everyone can keep track.

How do you enforce social distancing rules in the laboratories?

Well the labs are different sizes so we have had to make rules for how many people can be in each room at one time. But people are very good at keeping a safe distancing and waiting for each other to leave the smaller rooms. Its been a lot like supermarkets, where we have gotten used to giving each other a lot of space. Really people have just been very flexible and kind and excited to be back!

Faces of CBMR: Danial Ahwazi

Danial joined CBMR in January 2017 as a Master student before spending almost two years as a Research Assistant in the Barrès Group. He now works as Staff Scientist in the Sakamoto Group where he is designing new molecular tools to assess non-insulin dependent glucose uptake in vitro and in vivo. Danial has also helped Professor Kei Sakamoto to set up his laboratory following his arrival last year and he aspires to start a PhD with Kei by the start of next year.

In this Faces of CBMR post, Danial shares how he spends his time outside of science and how it helps him maintain his mental health during the lockdown period.

So, what do you get up to when you’re not working on science?

Working from home because of COVID-19 has presented some major challenges to my work-life balance. I must admit that my initial response was to shift into a higher working gear. But I quickly found out that this was not a sustainable track to continue on. So I came up with ways to do the things I enjoy,and bring them into my 60m2 apartment (now home office) that I share with my girlfriend and four cats.

A photo of Danial with his cats
Angelica, Alexis, Albert, Mama cat – Alva, and a very happy Danial

Wait … how many cats!?

When the lockdown was announced we decided to contact the local cat shelter. The shelters are short on staff, which puts a burden on the organization and sometimes that means that their cats end up isolated in small rooms without much human contact. So we quickly agreed to open our homes to three four-week-old kittens and their mom.

I must admit, having kittens takes some adjustments. But I quickly started to experience what can only be described as paternal (purrternal?) instincts. Having something to take care of has brought a sense of routine into my daily life, and ‘playtime’ helps me to remove my mind from work and the pandemic. I also get to practice my newfound talent of amateur cat photography – I mean, the world can never have too many cat photos!

If you were wondering when I start my day, then don’t worry. Our circadian rhythm from before the lockdown period has been preserved as our beloved mama cat starts her morning calls between 7:30 and 8:30, so there is no other choice but to get up and start the day.

Photos taken on a running trip in the Vallø forest.
Photos taken on a running trip in the Vallø forest.

What do you do for yourself?

Besides the obvious workout I get from squatting down several times a day to wipe poop off surfaces, I also try to put in some form of daily exercise.

Just like many of my colleagues, I care a lot about my work and I try to make some progress every day. But this can be mentally fatiguing, so I run, bike or do strength exercises every day to blow off some steam and to clear my mind. Personally, I enjoy investing some time to get away out of my immediate environment. Instead of the usual round-the-block run, a trip to the forest or near a historical site is not only stimulating for the senses but really helps to ease the mind. It might also be a relief for my partner (and cats) to have me away for a while.

Image showing how Danial socialises with his colleagues online.
Left is my eBeers home setup, and on the right, top and bottom, are screenshots taken from eBeers socials with colleagues from CBMR.

How do you stay social in this antisocial time?

Before the lockdown, our lab’s standard protocol was to get together for beers at least once a week. I truly enjoy all of my colleagues as they all have unique backgrounds and contribute to the great diversity at the CBMR. Naturally, we still wanted to keep in touch during the lockdown and one of the solutions has been “eBeers”. Skype, Zoom or Houseparty has given us the opportunity to see each other at least once a week for beers and games. Much like in the real world, we use these get togethers to touch base and to discuss the current world situation, or more important matters like what are good shows to watch on Netflix, and whether Carole Baskin really did kill feed her husband to her tigers.

Planning social activates, even if it is happening through a computer screen, has been giving me something to look forward to after long stretches of work.

Any final thoughts or advice for others in this period?

Try to find ways to introduce the things that make you happy into your new reality and remember to keep an open dialogue with work on how you prefer to progress. This worked for me and I hope it can inspire you! I can’t wait to see you all on the other side.

Find out more about the Sakamoto Group on the CBMR website , or follow the Sakamoto lab on Twitter – @LabSakamoto

Faces of CBMR: Postdoc Greg Robert Markby

In February, Greg started a Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Sakamoto Group, where his fiancé Fiona also secured a position! Read about Greg’s decision to join CBMR and what initially inspired him to pursue a career in the natural sciences.

Why did you decide to join CMBR?

A photo of Greg.

Joining the Sakamoto Group as a postdoctoral researcher was extremely attractive as it fulfilled many of the aims I had for my next position, including being in a foreign country. I think travel is a privilege afforded to the academic community and one that should be jumped at when possible, especially when it is to such a beautiful and exciting city like Copenhagen. On top of experiencing a new country, CBMR has excellent facilities and a strong financial base. I was really blown away when I toured the laboratory space and saw the equipment available. I knew this would facilitate the type of research I wanted to be involved in. In addition, the Sakomoto group is performing the type of high quality and critical research that I want to be involved in, within a field that I am passionate about.

In your view, what are some of CBMR’s unique features?

A photo of Greg standing in front of the Maersk Tower, which houses CBMR on floors 6 to 8.
Greg standing in front of the University of Copenhagen’s Maersk Tower, which houses CBMR on floors 6 to 8.

CBMR is a truly unique facility, with almost evert piece of laboratory equipment you could need – this helps to facilitate our research and makes life easier for hard-working scientists! The layout of the Center, with such a large number of metabolic researchers in one space, also allows for easy and effective collaboration between groups as well as always having an expert available if you have a question about any topic. One final unique feature is the view! Being located halfway up one of the tallest buildings in central Copenhagen makes for fantastic lunchtime viewing.

“I was really blown away when I toured the laboratory space and saw the equipment available”

Why did you get into biomedical sciences?

As a ‘wee lad’ I was inspired by the events depicted in Jurassic park to become a palaeontologist. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t spell it, I knew this is what I wanted to be! As I grew older this passion morphed into a more general urge to understand the natural world. Over time I became particularly passionate about both biology and chemistry and I settled on a biomedical science course at university, as this covered a wide breadth of topics helping to fulfil my yearning to learn. This desire to continue to study and develop brought me through a Master’s, a PhD and, finally, led me here!

What is your primary scientific question you wish to address?

As part of the Sakamoto lab group, I want to contribute to increasing the understanding of cellular metabolic homeostasis in different contexts. I hope this research can answer fundamental biological questions that eventually better humanity, whether through the development of novel pharmaceutical agents for treating metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, or a better understanding of the beneficial effects of exercise. For me, this will involve investigating the role of the cellular metabolic regulator AMPK and its associated pathways in hepatocytes before expanding into different cellular contexts. 

“I want to improve my experimental design process, foster new professional relationships and collaborations that will benefit everyone involved and be part of exciting projects that lead to fundamental changes in how we understand metabolism”

What sort of research experiences do you hope to get in my group?

Working at CBMR and in the Sakamoto lab group affords many opportunities to experience new things and develop as a researcher. I would like to develop my skills in bioinformatics (specifically ’omic’ style analysis) as I envisage this being a large part of future research directives and a fundamental understanding would be beneficial. I would also like to gain experience in in vivo mouse model phenotyping and analysis as I feel this is an area I have not had a large amount of exposure too. Beyond technical skills, I want to improve my experimental design process, foster new professional relationships and collaborations that will benefit everyone involved and be part of exciting projects that lead to fundamental changes in how we understand metabolism. Through this, I would like to cultivate my own research questions and style before progressing to becoming an independent researcher.  

What do you want to get out of this globally-challenging period?

A photo of Greg working from home.
Greg has had to work from home, like so many others, these past months.

During this strange and different lockdown, it has been difficult not to feel a bit disheartened at being knocked out of the usual routine and having to abandon carefully planned experiments. However, I have found it is important to adapt and see the positives in the situation. It has given me ample time to get more up to date with the literature in the field, which I needed to do given my recent change in research focus. This has become so extensive that I am now working on a short review article so that I have a substantive outcome from all this work. Also I have been setting aside some time to learn some new skills. This includes beginning to learn how to use R and how to script, something that was completely new to me just a few weeks ago. I am also putting efforts into improving my Danish with Duolingo. This is still in its infancy but I can tell you, ‘Jeg spiser et æble’ for my breakfast as I write now. Outside of these mental challenges, I have also been exploring the local area with my fiancée during our daily exercise runs and coming up with innovative indoor workout routines for us both to enjoy, although she does not agree with the enjoyment part! 

Do you have a final message for students/postdocs considering an opportunity in Copenhagen or CBMR?

A photo of Greg drinking a beer by Copenhagen's inner city lakes.
Drinking a beer by Copenhagen’s inner city lakes.

If you have the opportunity to join CBMR, I cannot recommend it highly enough. The Center’s culture is friendly and collaborative, and living in Copenhagen is incredible too, with a lot to offer. It’s clean, there are plenty of green spaces, and there is depth of cultural offerings, from its architecture, to the innumerable museums, art galleries and theatres and the huge number of shops, cafes, and places to eat. If you are considering a move, one major lifestyle change you will have to make is that you can bicycle everywhere.

Find out more about the Sakamoto Group on the CBMR website or follow the lab on Twitter – @LabSakamoto

Love in the Time of Corona

By Postdoc Opal Huang

The nationwide shutdown in Denmark due to the coronavirus outbreak was not entirely unexpected, observing other European countries’ trajectory of mounting infected cases and deaths. The first few days was unbearable, with the overwhelming amount of news on the media brewing into fear and anxiety in isolation. The unflinching reality of the spread confronted me to make a decision to either live drastically different or perish with fear. After a few days of struggles, I started to build structure into my life at home, and gradually, life has grown to be more spacious. I can breathe again.

A playful collage by Opal, that imagines if Gabriel García Márquez had written about Corona, instead of Cholera.
A playful collage by Opal, that imagines if Gabriel García Márquez had written about Corona, instead of Cholera.

I believe this is the critical moment that we, as a society, have to start cultivating a love that is considerate, informed, and objective. The first is self-love, which is taking care of our mental and physical well-being while being connected to the world and our loved ones. A love for our friends and colleagues in the community where we are, by keeping social distancing, while in support of each other. Respect for our frontline medical professionals who risk their lives to keep us safe, by heeding their urgent pleads for safety practices during this outbreak.

With this in mind, I implemented a routine balanced with different elements in life for myself and with others that motivates me and keeps me focused. I hope you could find parts of it that is relevant. Here it is:

In the morning, I wake up to ‘Morgensang med Phillip Faber’, a live singalong program hosted by Phillip Faber, the chief conductor of the DR Koncerthuset Girls’ Choir. It usually starts with a warmup, followed by a singalong of 2 well-known Danish songs. Adding a meditation session, I start my day feeling fresh and positive.

Opal Huang in a yoga pose.
Opal Huang in a yoga pose.

After morning work hours, I find myself spending more time preparing nutritionally-balanced meals. I also schedule brisk walks to Fælledparken after lunch, while practicing social distancing. Having refreshed myself, I come home and play some piano before starting my afternoon work session.

After dinner, I finally turn on the news to keep myself informed of the current situation, but set a time limit. Normally it is followed by video chats with family and friends. For evening entertainment, to my delight, I found virtual tours of many world-renowned museums offered by Google Arts and Culture project, and also many concert pieces recorded and offered by DR Koncerthuset.  A slow down before heading to bed is a 20 mins yoga session to get a good night’s sleep, until the next morning, when I have to brave the world again.

I believe we can all practice the love for ourselves through such self-care routine, the love for each other by staying apart while connected, and the respect for our medical workers for their sacrifice by honoring their advice. Please continue to share your lives through social channels and platforms, and keep our community healthy and safe.

Faces of CBMR: Postdoc Fiona Louise Roberts

Fiona Louise Roberts started a Postdoctoral Fellowship with the Sakamoto Group in February – weeks before the University of Copenhagen closed its doors in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Still, she has managed to find ways to stay busy and use her time productively.

Photo of CBMR Postdoc Fiona Louise Roberts

Find out more about Fiona, why she joined CBMR, and her research goals, in this interview, the first in the ‘Faces of CBMR’ series.

Why did you get into biomedical sciences?

When I was little, my family took a trip to New York to visit my aunt and uncle. During this trip my Aunt, with a flair for the eccentric, took me to see ‘Bodies…. The exhibition’. This was a fascinating collection of preserved human bodies demonstrating the intricacies, complexity and beauty of human anatomy. At this point, I became interested in understanding more about biology. This interest was a fire that kept on burning all throughout my high school education (Biology was my favourite subject, naturally) and inspired me to study medical sciences at undergraduate level, and continuing to post graduate level. As I continued studying in the biomedical sciences field, I started to really understand Aristotle’s famous phrase ‘The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know’.

What attracted you to join CBMR?

Having moved countries several times as a child, I was interested to experience a new country and research setting after completing my PhD in Scotland. I wanted to move to a new work place which offered collaboration, excellent quality facilities, a healthy work-life balance, and an environment for high quality research to be conducted. As a young scientist, I aim to work on all aspects of my career development with the hope to become an independent researcher by learning new techniques and collaborating with colleagues. CBMR offered all of these opportunities and more.

What is your primary scientific question you wish to address?
I am interested in understanding more about the complex mechanistic pathways of metabolism. Of course, this is a huge and diverse area, but that’s the intrinsic beauty of the metabolic field – there are so many different and compelling areas of research to discover and become involved in. I hope to contribute specific knowledge to the metabolic field, with my current focus being on cell signalling and adipose tissue. Later in my academic career I hope to merge my knowledge and practical skills from my PhD with my expertise in metabolic signalling gained working in the Sakamoto Laboratory… watch this space.

What sort of research experiences do you hope to get in the Sakamoto Group?

The Sakamoto group offers a fantastic opportunity to gain a wide range of skills and scientific engagement. I hope to gain experience in sophisticated experimental design to aid me in becoming an independent researcher. I also aim to expand my in vivo phenotyping skills using novel mouse models, CBMR’s state-of-the-art metabolic phenotyping facilities present, and collaborations with other inspiring metabolic experts at the Center. I aspire to contribute to high quality papers and gain experience in scientific writing, including grant applications and outreach activities such as this blog. Finally, I hope to increase my engagement with colleagues and deepen my knowledge through continued collaboration and scientific discussion. These are a few examples, I could go on!

What do you want to get out of this globally challenging period?

I joined the Sakamoto group in February of this year, and I was so enjoying finding my feet both in the research facility and with my practical skills. I have to admit that I was sad to be told we must work from home. Since I recently completed my PhD, I feel like a large portion of my last year has been spent finishing paper/thesis writing and away from the lab. Like many of my colleagues, I am looking forward to getting back to what we do best: practical work!

However, with great encouragement from Kei and all members of my group, we have all adjusted well to working from home and I have made academic and personal goals for myself. For example, I have been working hard to comprehensively read through literature to gain a solid understanding of my new area of work and, as a result of this, I am now planning a Review article.

A photo of Fiona's home office.
Fiona’s home office.

I have also been trying hard to establish healthy routines for myself to keep my mind and body in good shape. I started the ‘Couch to 5K’ running program to help me get more active, I regularly speak to my friends via Zoom and Houseparty and we host quiz nights and drinks nights together. I have an almost daily ice lolly and walk in the sun (if it can be found). I have been cooking good quality food for myself and my fiancé, although admittedly I still have to guess some of the Danish ingredients and cooking instructions

I think it is important that we aim to be productive, to feel a sense of achievement and worth during this time. It is critical to balance this with self care, investing time in hobbies and whatever brings you joy. Above all, it has been important to behave in accordance with issued guidelines for safe behaviour. I hope to emerge from this globally challenging period healthy, with increased knowledge for my professional life, and increased knowledge of what makes me happy in my personal life and how to achieve this.

Fiona stands outside the University of Copenhagen's Maersk Tower. CBMR occupies the 6th, 7th and 8th floors.
Fiona outside the University of Copenhagen’s Maersk Tower. CBMR occupies the 6th, 7th and 8th floors.

In your view, what are some of CBMR’s unique features?

CBMR has many amazing and unique features, and I keep discovering more. The building itself is a beautiful architecturally, offering a work place that is bright, well designed and enjoyable to be in. CBMR has wonderful facilities, which offers an opportunity to use top of the range, high quality equipment to let you answer many research questions and explore complicated concepts. In addition, CBMR is a very friendly place, whether it is breakfast together on Monday mornings, a coffee break with your colleagues, or young researcher socials on Fridays, there is always something to engage in.

What do you enjoy about living in Copenhagen? Have you had to make any lifestyle changes after your relocation?

Copenhagen is beautiful city and there is so much to explore! I had never visited Copenhagen until my interview for my postdoc and it captured my heart straight away. One of my favourite things to do is cycle my bike around the city and to enjoy sunshine walks along the Lakes. I find myself enjoying the outdoor green spaces here, including my local park which has great running routes. Another lifestyle change includes the increased consumption of good coffee, great craft beers and even better food. Copenhagen is a food heaven!

A photo of Frederiksberg Gardens, which is a popular spot for walks and jogs.
Frederiksberg Gardens is a popular spot for walks and jogs.

Final message for students/postdocs considering an opportunity in Copenhagen or CBMR?

CBMR and Copenhagen have spoilt me for other places. My working and professional life here are so happy and satisfactory, and it seems this way for most people! Denmark has one of the happiest and most content populations of people and I can fully understand why. For anyone considering an opportunity in Copenhagen or CBMR I suggest you reach out to current employees for a chat and to have your questions answered by locals, or international researchers who have made the move over here.

Find out more about the Sakamoto Group on the CBMR website or follow the lab on Twitter – @LabSakamoto