“Obesity should be considered a disease and we need to increase investment in research to understand the pathology”
The NeuRoMet group at CiMUS is led by the new principal investigator of the singular centre of the USC, Ismael González García. His medium-term objective is the consolidation in the field of central regulation of energy homeostasis and obesity, a central line of study that defines the activity of his team. Talent trained at the USC and reinforced in Germany, the young researcher maintains that CiMUS "represents today the paradigm of a centre with an excellent grouping of biomedical researchers", and highlights its "attractive academic-clinical environment", ideal for developing his career. Obesity, the focus of study of the new group, should be considered in the opinion of the researcher as a "disease, regardless of the cause that has provoked it" and in the face of this serious threat to public health he proposes "promoting social change to reduce the obesogenic environment that surrounds us, increasing investment in research to understand the pathology and providing greater medical resources to health systems to address a problem that is growing in scale".
Your scientific career began at CiMUS of USC, but your time in Germany at a leading institute in diabetes and obesity stands out. How has the knowledge and experience abroad had an impact and what has it 'imported' for the USC centre where you are now consolidated?
The years in Munich have been fundamental for my development as a scientist. The stimulating environment, the researchers around me and the resources available greatly encouraged my creativity and allowed me to explore my independence on an intellectual level. On a purely scientific level, the postdoc at Helmholtz strengthened my neuroscientific profile, and I suppose that it is precisely my technical and theoretical knowledge in this field that is my most valuable "import".
What advantages and strengths do you find in CiMUS for young researchers like yourself?
Since its creation, CiMUS has been a benchmark for research in Spain and continues to represent today the paradigm of a centre with an excellent grouping of biomedical researchers. Among its advantages, the centre has administrative support staff, experienced technicians and common resources that greatly facilitate the work of researchers. Moreover, its proximity to CEBEGA is a very positive aspect for researchers working in vivo. Moreover, the CiMUS is set in an interesting academic-clinical environment, allowing its researchers to be enriched by attracting talent from its student body, accessing its resources and facilities and being protected by the international prestige of the USC, as well as benefiting from collaborations with IDIS medical professionals.
Developing your current lines of research focused on the relationship of the hypothalamus with the regulation of energy balance and obesity is the aim of your work, so what will be the main avenues of study for your group?
The group is currently establishing different lines of research, all of them focused on the relationship of the hypothalamus with the regulation of energy balance and obesity. In this context, the group is focused on three main avenues, the study of hypothalamic nuclear receptors, the neuroendocrine role of astrocytes and the central effects of oestrogens.
What are the new challenges in the fight against obesity and associated comorbidities, knowing that it poses a serious threat to public health, and what new global findings should be taken into account?
In my personal opinion, making it clear that I am a basic science researcher and not a public health expert, the challenges in the fight against obesity lie in three fundamental areas: promoting social change to reduce the obesogenic environment that surrounds us, increasing investment in research to understand the pathology, and providing health systems with greater medical resources to tackle a problem that is growing in scale.
In my view, the discovery that is revolutionising the field in recent years is the advent of GLP1 analogues and co-agonists. These molecules have demonstrated an effectiveness in the treatment of obesity that in some cases can be compared to bariatric surgery. It remains to be seen how they will develop in mass use, but the pre-clinical studies and clinical trials published so far are encouraging.
That obesity should be considered a disease and treated as such is one of the main demands of both researchers and clinicians. What is your opinion?
My position is that obesity should be considered a disease, regardless of the cause of the obesity. This consideration has a fairly broad consensus at the scientific-medical level, in fact, countries such as the USA, Canada, Japan, Portugal and Germany have already recognised obesity as a disease. And while it is true that this categorisation has been disputed in some quarters, what is clear is the dire consequences and risks associated with obesity. On a societal level, I believe that the enormous obesity rates we have seen in recent years have made the general population aware of the serious health problems we are suffering. In any case, my opinion is that in all these decisions to recognise or define what a disease is, what should always prevail is the well-being of the patient and to ensure that people with obesity are correctly diagnosed, assessed, advised and treated.
How do you value the interdisciplinary collaboration between groups and areas of related knowledge, which is so established at CiMUS?
It is really positive. Collaboration in science is fundamental nowadays as we are tackling complex problems that often require interdisciplinary solutions.
Fortunately, CiMUS as an institution has been able to foster this spirit and my position on this is clear: to help and collaborate whenever possible.
General challenges and objectives for the group in the short and medium-term
The short-term challenges for the Neuroendocrine Regulation of Metabolism (NeuRoMet) group are the incorporation of researchers at all stages of training and attracting funding in both national and international calls for proposals.
In the medium term, the group aims for sustained growth that will allow it to consolidate its position in the field of central regulation of energy homeostasis and obesity. This goal will be approached with the challenge in mind of creating a workplace where equality, diversity and inclusion are core values of a welcoming and respectful academic environment.
What advice would you give to a researcher starting his/her scientific career?
As Ramón y Cajal wrote, "work creates talent". A research career is no different from other professional careers and you don't need a special talent to pursue it. In my experience, constant day-to-day work, although it does not guarantee success, is often the best method in the long run.