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Joslin Researcher Earns Perfect Score on Recent Grant

Friday, June 05, 2015

2015 has been a good year so far for Yu Hua Tseng, Ph.D., Investigator in the Section on Integrative Physiology and Metabolism at Joslin Diabetes Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. A review article about how brown fat uses fatty acids and blood sugar as fuel was named one of the top 10 papers of 2014 by Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, a prominent journal. She was also awarded a perfect score on a National Institute of Health (NIH) grant application for an upcoming project, falling in the top 1 percent of all grants submitted.

The Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism paper, titled “Brown fat fuel utilization and thermogenesis” and co-authored by Kristy L. Townsend, Ph.D., then a Research Associate in the Section on Integrative Physiology and Metabolism at Joslin, and currently Adjunct Faculty, compiled research done over the years on brown fat’s use of fatty acids and blood sugar to fuel the calorie-burning heat it’s known for.

“It’s important to understand how brown fat utilizes these fuels, because we know brown fat can generate heat by converting different fuels into this heat,” she said. Understanding how brown fat works can increase researchers’ ability to maximize this tissue’s usefulness in treating different metabolic diseases, by making sure the brown fat siphons up excess blood sugar or fatty acids.

“People with diabetes have high blood sugar. How can we turn on brown fat to utilize this excess blood sugar?” she said. “And similarly for other metabolic disorders, such as hyperlipidemia [high levels of fat]; how can we maximize the power of brown fat to lower the fatty acids in our circulation?"

By writing this paper, Dr. Tseng and Dr. Townsend provided a closer look at the relationships and links between the disparate studies conducted by labs around the world. “It’s really important, and [I think it’s] the reason why this article was selected to the top 10 articles,” she said. “And Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism is one of the best journals that publishes review articles in the field.”

The announcement of the top 10 article came on the heels of another honor coming from the NIH. Dr. Tseng submitted a grant proposing to study a growth factor that plays a role in brown fat development; the grant received a perfect score from all reviewers, a rare accomplishment.

“This is a rare and wonderful event in NIH funding,” said George King, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer at Joslin Diabetes Center and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “The ideas proposed by Dr. Tseng will have great impact on the understanding of obesity and new treatments for diabetes.”

“I was really excited about this,” she said. While the research funded by the grant hasn’t started yet, she is looking forward to initiating this new work.

“I don’t know how it happened, but it happened and it’s really rare,” she said. “It’s really an honor.”

Dr. Tseng has been studying brown fat since 2000. She has published more than thirty papers on the topic and is widely recognized as one of the leaders in the field.

Page last updated: November 24, 2017