European funding for the health of future generations

The eating behavior of a pregnant woman has tremendous influence on the development of her unborn child, which in turn can control their future feeding habits. Dr. Sophie Steculorum from the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne investigates the impact of junk food during pregnancy on the offspring. This highly relevant topic has been selected by the European Research Council (ERC) to receive 1.5 million Euro over five years in research funding.

Supporting the most talented scientists in Europe, the ERC grant aims to give them freedom to pursue their scientific ideas. The young French group leader, Dr. Sophie Steculorum, developed an innovative new idea to study the connection between the eating behavior and overall health of a pregnant woman and its influence on the baby’s development. “The child has a higher risk to prefer fatty and sugary food and to become obese when the mother eats junk food in excess during pregnancy or is already obese herself,” explains Steculorum, emphasizing that “for cigarette smoking, it took several decades to realize that it was harmful to the baby and to effectively warn pregnant women of the danger of smoking. We should not allow it to take that long for the case of excessive fat-and-sugar-enriched foods consumption during pregnancy. We need to understand the mechanisms by which an individual can be predisposed to obesity even before birth, so that we can act now for the health of future generations.”

The research of Steculorum and her colleagues plays a key role in understanding the mechanisms that lead to obesity and its associated risk of complications, including many diseases that are increasingly prevalent in our modern society. Since the brain controls our feeding behavior and the regulation of metabolic processes, the research will explore a novel angle of investigation and focus on brain development. Dr. Steculorum hopes that by understanding the underlying mechanisms, it will be easier to explain how unhealthy maternal nutrition during pregnancy can already influence the health of children.

The awardee

Dr. Sophie Steculorum received her master degree in 2008 at the University of Lille, France and continued with her PhD in Neuroscience. After her graduation in 2011 she moved to Cologne, working as a Postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Prof. Jens Brüning. Since 2017 she is an independent Max Planck Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research and Principal Investigator of the Cluster of Excellence for Ageing Research (CECAD). During her career Dr. Steculorum has been selected for several awards and prizes reflecting her outstanding scientific achievements in the fields of neuroscience and metabolism.

The European Research Council (ERC)

The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the first European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. ERC Starting Grants are awarded to researchers with two to seven years of experience since completion of their PhD (or equivalent degree) and a scientific track record showing great promise. The research must be conducted in a public or private research organisation located in one of the EU Member States or Associated Countries. The funding (up to €1.5 million per grant) is provided over a period of up to five years.

contact for scientific information:
Dr. Sophie Steculorum
Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research
Gleuler Str. 50
50931 Köln

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