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Who:

Gregory Steinberg, co-director, Centre for Metabolism, Obesity and Diabetes Research, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont. (Gregory Steinberg received Diabetes Canada’s 2017 Young Scientist of the Year award at the annual professional conference.)

Research highlights/discoveries:

• Identifying how chronic inflammation in people with obesity could weaken the body's ability to burn fat. (With chronic inflammation, your body is constantly releasing damaging chemicals that could sicken your cells.)

• Discovering how metformin—a commonly used medicine for treating type 2 diabetes—and exercise work to lower blood sugar.

• Uncovering a hormone that is raised with diabetes and obesity, slowing down the body’s metabolism as a result.

Gregory Steinberg at a glance:

● Received Diabetes Canada Young Scientist Award (2017)

● Received American Diabetes Association Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award (2017)

● Appointed inaugural co-director of the Metabolism and Childhood Obesity Research Program, McMaster University (2012)

● Received his Ph.D. from the University of Guelph (2002)

What is metabolism?

It's the name for the process our bodies go through to convert what we eat and drink into energy.

How did you get interested in diabetes research?

I was always very interested in biology from a young age. As a competitive swimmer and triathlete, I then started becoming more interested in how nutrition and exercise training could improve my own performance. During that time,

my grandmother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and had a debilitating stroke, so I wanted to apply my knowledge of metabolism to help people with diabetes.

How exactly are metabolism and diabetes connected?

Through my research, I’ve discovered how our bodies respond to different amounts and kinds of food. We are now looking at ways we can use this information to speed up metabolism so people can lower their blood sugar and maintain a healthy weight.

How would that work?

One of the things we are trying to do is ramp up the metabolism of a tissue called brown fat. Unlike white fat, which is used to store energy, brown fat is like our body’s furnace and burns a lot of calories. We think if we can turn it on all the time, we can burn fats and sugars [from the foods we eat, and that will] help people with diabetes.

Why not just encourage more exercise?

Lifestyle changes are always the first option in preventing the development of type 2 diabetes, but we know that maintaining weight loss over the long term is extremely challenging for most people, because people’s metabolism slows down after weight loss. We want to stop this from happening by ramping up brown fat metabolism.

What are you most proud of in your career?

The opportunity to establish a new research program in metabolism and diabetes at McMaster University has been very exciting and rewarding. We currently have several studies happening here that are supported by Diabetes Canada, and I’m confident that some of these may lead to new therapies for diabetes.

What are your next goals?

Childhood obesity rates have risen across Canada and the rest of the world and, as a result, many of these children are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. We really want to find new ways to help prevent this from happening.

You participated in Diabetes Canada’s fitness fundraiser, Lace Up for Diabetes. Tell us more.

Growing up in the Brantford, Ont., in the ‘70s, one of my earliest and fondest memories was biking around my neighbourhood with my parents. With the cancellation of so many organized sporting events this year [due to the COVID-19 pandemic], it is a great time to go back to making physical activity with the family part of a daily routine. In addition to being great fun, physical activity can help prevent type 2 diabetes.

To help celebrate the upcoming 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin in 2021, I rode 8,000 km (the equivalent of crossing Canada) for 80 days, completing on average 100 km per day. My family assisted by riding or running with me. I raised almost $15,000 to fund the next breakthrough discovery in diabetes [so it can happen in Canada] like it did 100 years ago. We have tremendous talent in Canada, but researchers need more funding to fuel the discovery of new treatments that will revolutionize the way we treat diabetes.

The last word

“Greg Steinberg is that rare scientist who can bring a panoramic view to his work—from intricate details of cell function to the impact of exercise on weight loss—and generate important new discoveries in many areas. We at Diabetes Canada are so delighted to have been able to support his research, and are eager to see the new treatments his discoveries will support.” – Dr. Jan Hux, past president and CEO, Diabetes Canada

Visit Research to read about the research projects and awards funded by Diabetes Canada.

How can you help us fund research that changes lives? Donate now!

(This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Autumn 2018)


Author: Rosalind Stefanac

Category Tags: Research;

Region: National

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