Novo Nordisk Foundation Lecture prize awarded to Professor Pirjo Nuutila


Professor and Chief Physician, InFLAMES group leader Pirjo Nuutila is receiving the 2022 Novo Nordisk Foundation Lecture prize for her contribution to research on metabolic diseases such as overweight and diabetes.

Her extensive research makes Pirjo Nuutila very worthy recipient of the 2022 Novo Nordisk Foundation Lecture prize, explains Anna Krook, Chair of the prize committee and Professor, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

– Pirjo Nuutila was one of the first scientists to use PET scanning to study metabolic disorders and used it to measure glucose uptake in various tissues in real time. Her research has improved understanding of how insulin resistance among people with diabetes affects glucose uptake into the brain, providing insight into how diabetes affects cognition. 

– The prize is a tremendous honour and comes as a great surprise, says Pirjo Nuutila.

Deeper understanding of diabetes

The use of scanning techniques such as PET scanning to study metabolic disorders has led to many discoveries since the 1990s. Research carried out by Pirjo Nuutila and her colleagues at the Turku PET Centre at Turku University and Turku University Hospital has revealed how metabolic disorders affect the various tissues and organs in the body.

These include how metabolic disorders affect skeletal muscle and fat tissue. Since their discovery, these insights have contributed substantially to understanding obesity and diabetes as multi-organ disorders that affect more than just weight and blood glucose.

– Before PET technology was taken in use, the importance of insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes was found and the role of skeletal muscles in metabolism evaluated. However, most of the other organs of interest, e.g. the heart, liver, adiposity and central nervous system had been impossible to study in humans in vivo. We know a lot more about all of these today, because quantitative imaging has provided much deeper insight into what is happening in the various organs, explains Pirjo Nuutila.

Discovered brown fat

The work of Pirjo Nuutila’s research group has elucidated many aspects of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and her research has helped to map the tissue-specific effects of bariatric surgery.

In 2009 the work of Pirjo Nuutila and associate professor Kirsi Virtanen resulted discovery of brown fat and its role in metabolism. The article published on this discovery is one of the most widely read in the field, with more than 2,000 citations, and the discovery has spawned an entire field dedicated to understanding the role of brown fat in health.

In recent years, Pirjo Nuutila’s research has focused on understanding the mechanisms of SGLT2inhibitors, and renal metabolism. One of the ongoing projects aims to improve understanding of anorexia. The researchers are trying to map out what happens to the body’s tissues and organs, especially when young women develop anorexia.

– Today this field is insufficiently researched, and we lack knowledge to better understand how this disorder affects the whole body, says Nuutila.

Pirjo Nuutila will give a lecture on her research in Reykjavik, Iceland on 12–13 May in connection with receiving the prize.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Lecture was established in 1979. The recipient is invited to hold a lecture to coincide with the annual conference of the Scandinavian Society for the Study of Diabetes.
The accompanying award of 80 000 euros is donated by The Novo Nordisk Foundation.  The prize is awarded by a committee consisting of three members from the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s Committee on Endocrinology and Metabolism and the Chair of the Scandinavian Society for the Study of Diabetes.

InFLAMES Flagship is a joint initiative of University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University, Finland. The goal of the Flagship is to integrate the immunological and immunology-related research activities to develop and exploit new diagnostic and therapeutic tools for personalised medicine. InFLAMES in funded by Academy of Finland.

Created 05.05.2022 | Updated 05.05.2022