New professor will expand the molecular understanding of our genomes

New professor will expand the molecular understanding of our genomes  -
04.10.17

But in his spare time, University of Southern Denmark’s new professor Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld, funded by Danish Diabetes Academy, would like to have chicken in his backyard, learn how to kitesurf and to fulfil his childrens’ dream of living on a Danish boat.

GERMAN PUNCTUALITY

Professor Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld calls on the exact agreed time. I answer the phone and say: ‘What an impressing punctuality’. ‘I’m German’, he replies with a laugh.  Two characteristics revealed within the first 10 seconds, and a pretty good feeling that there is a perfect match between Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld and his colleagues in Odense. He is enthusiastic about his new position. The researchers at SDU’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) are on the forefront of science and very internationally visible, he says, and he believes that there is a very large professional as well as personal foundation to build on.

WILL STRENGTHEN RESEARCH WITHIN FUNCTIONAL GENOMICS AND METABOLIC RESEARCH

He will be affiliated with the Functional Genomics & Metabolism Research Unit. According to Head of the Research Unit Susanne Mandrup, Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld will strengthen research within this field, which is selected as one of the target areas at Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He will also be in close collaboration with the new Center for Functional Genomics and Tissue Plasticity (ATLAS), headed by Susanne Mandrup.

In relation to DDA, who has funded his professorship, he will contribute to enhancing the educational activities for young researchers within diabetes and metabolism. Among other things, he will be giving lectures at PhD courses, seminars and symposia, as well as supervise PhD students.

WANTS TO UNDERSTAND HOW WE GET METABOLICALLY SICK AT THE MOLECULAR AND CELLULAR LEVEL

Originally, Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld was a cancer researcher. His field of expertise was liver cancer, but during his PhD thesis in cancer biology in Vienna, Austria, he intriguingly got to learn that the molecular circuitry and signalling pathways going awry in cancer and metabolic diseases, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes (T2D) are very similar.

‘Getting fascinated by metabolic research, I keenly wanted to understand how we get metabolically sick at the molecular and cellular level and how we could devise new and more effective therapies to counteract this. Since then, my team and I are trying to expand the molecular understanding of our genomes as ‘blueprint for life’ and the role it plays in development of obesity and T2D. Particularly, we are looking for answers in those 98% of the genome that do not serve as blueprint for the production of proteins and henceforth are often ignored in biomedical research. Although these regions are devoid of protein-coding information, they are very active and give rise to thousands of so-called ‘noncoding RNAs’ with mostly unknown functions’, he tells. 

MOVING TO DENMARK AND LEARNING HOW TO LIVE LIKE NATIVES ON FUNEN

Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld moves to Denmark with three members of his research group from the Max-Planck Institute for Metabolic Research in Köln, besides his family of two children, age 1 and 4, and his wife Beate Kornfeld, who works with communication and has been offered a job at BMB – so now they both are eager to learn Danish. 

Learning Danish is not easy, according to Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld, and when he ends the conversation with a ‘Mange tak’ followed by another laugh, he says: ‘Those are the only words in Danish I know. Yet.’ 

That being said, his family and research group members are planning to do their best to adapt to the Danish society and to live like the natives on Funen. In fact, Beate and Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld originally decided to buy a big farm outside Odense. Unfortunately, the vendor of the farm decided to stay on the farm, not selling it, so now they have bought a big, old house near Odense instead. It used to be the main building of a farm once – and to some extent will be again: When they can’t have a farm, they at least want to have chicken like they did in their childhood home. Once in a while the chickens have to be home alone, though: ‘Me personally, I’d love to learn how to kite-surf and my son Philian (age 4) wants to live on a boat’. 

Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld will start as professor January 1, 2018.

CONTACT

Susanne Mandrup
Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Mobile: (+45) 6011 2340
Email: s.mandrup@bmb.sdu.dk

Tore Christiansen
Managing Director, Danish Diabetes Academy
Mobile: (+45) 2964 6764
Email: tore.christiansen@rsyd.dk

Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld
Dipl.-Biochem. Emmy-Noether Program/ CECAD Principal Investigator
Max-Planck-Institute for Metabolism Research
Research Group Noncoding RNAs and Energy Homeostasis 
Gleueler Strasse 50, 50931 Cologne

Mobile: (+49)163 454 1224
Email: Jan-Wilhelm.Kornfeld@sf.mpg.de
Web: www.kornfeldlab.comwww.cecad.uni-koeln.de