A pack of sled dogs - and their owner - made her a diabetes researcher

A pack of sled dogs - and their owner - made her a diabetes researcher
Theresia Schnurr

Actually, it was a pack of sled dogs—and their owner—who made Theresia Maria Schnurr a diabetes researcher. And she did not walk into it; she went skiing. It was a lucky punch: In her work with both a Danish and a Greenlandic cohort, she has made interesting findings, and her hope is that they will aid in eventually identify new potential targets for individualized prevention and treatment of obesity and diabetes. 

Theresia Schnurr is German, from Bühertal, a small mountain village in the black forest, and she has a Master of Science degree in biochemistry and molecular biology, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, United States. 

She studied in Alaska because she had received a sports scholarship to represent the University of Alaska in cross-country running/skiing during the national university championships. 

During her bachelor studies, she had to take some independent research credits and bumped into a young professor who worked with sled dogs in an Arctic setting as an exercise and diabetes model. She worked with her for a semester and soon found out that the research she was doing was not only adventurous—sampling the dogs at -40°C at a dog kennel outside town—but also fun and educational. She learned a lot about insulin resistance and exercise-stimulated GLUT4 translocation. 

“When she offered me to do my Master’s thesis in her lab I didn’t hesitate to say yes”, Theresia said. 

She did her Master’s and it got her hooked to continue her research, which led to a PhD with the interest in digging further into the health benefits of exercise—which is her personal interest—and obesity/diabetes complications. 

Diabetes, obesity and exercise in a genetic perspective

Her Danish boyfriend made her aware of the great PhD conditions in Denmark, and her

next luck was that Professor Torben Hansen helped her find funding to work on her PhD project: Diabetes, Obesity and Exercise in a Genetic Perspective. 

The overall objective of her PhD project is to elucidate the role of genetics on objectively assessed physical activity and fitness and its association to obesity and diabetes-related traits. To address her research questions, she is studying well-characterized population-based Danish cohorts as well as a cohort of Greenlandic Inuit for which objectively assessed physical activity data and/or fitness data are available. 

Body fat percentage and cardiorespiratory fitness

In one project studying Danish cohorts, she and her colleagues made the potential and very interesting observation that there might be shared genetic aetiology between body fat percentage and cardiorespiratory fitness. In another project they found that Greenlandic Inuit who are homozygous carriers of the TBC1D4 risk variant can greatly benefit from physical activity shown in improved postprandial two-hour glucose levels, probably through a mechanism involving an exercise-induced and TBC1D4-independent GLUT4 translocation to the muscle cell membrane. Theresia believes not only that her PhD project can contribute to eventually identify new potential targets for individualized prevention and treatment of obesity and diabetes, but also that the epidemiological scale of the present study will enable a direct translation of their findings to the real-life setting of population-wide general practice-based diabetes screening and tailored prevention in an Arctic setting.  

Still skiing – and mostly training on rollerskis

And as for the skiing, she started up a cross-country skiing kids group in Copenhagen Skiing Club - the training is of course mostly on rollerskis. She was also team captain for Team Denmark during the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun, Sweden, in 2015. 

And the Danish boyfriend?  He is still her boyfriend. He is working as a attorney -at-law - so it is likely that Theresia will stay and work some more years in Denmark even though she misses spectacular mountains and the snow outside the backdoor.