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Juleen Zierath Receives a Prize for Mapping How Sugar Enter Cells

Juleen Zierath is a Professor at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen and at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.

Juleen Zierath is giving the 2016 Novo Nordisk Foundation Lecture on 21 April 2016 and will receive the accompanying prize of DKK 50,000 for her pioneering research on the molecular processes that form the basis of the development and treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Physical exercise both prevents and treats type 2 diabetes, because exercise increases the ability of skeletal muscles to respond to insulin and thereby enhances the muscles’ ability to convert glucose to energy. For many years, it was a mystery what exactly happens in the interaction between insulin, glucose and muscle cells of both healthy individuals and people with type 2 diabetes, who have impaired insulin sensitivity.

Juleen Zierath has contributed enormously to solving this mystery with her interdisciplinary research in integrated physiology for 20 years.

She is recognized internationally for her translational research: building bridges between basic laboratory research at the epigenetic and molecular level and clinical work.


Juleen Zierath’s notable results include a precise description of several signalling pathways through which glucose is transported into the cells of healthy people. She has also shown how these pathways are blocked in people with type 2 diabetes and how exercise training and weight loss lead to new pathways opening up, improving the uptake of glucose.

“I am extremely pleased to receive this prize. When you take into account those who have previously received it, I feel very honoured to be in their company,” says Juleen Zierath, who originally trained as a teacher and taught physiology and exercise training to teenagers in the United States.

She became motivated to understand the interaction between exercise training and the body’s cells and earned a degree in exercise physiology and a PhD in physiology.


In recent years, Juleen Zierath’s research has focused on how exercise training and weight loss affects the human epigenome. Epigenetic marks are tiny chemical molecules that decide which genes in the DNA are expressed. In collaboration with other researchers and clinicians, Juleen Zierath has shown that the epigenome is modified in the liver, fat and muscles when people lose weight after bariatric surgery.

“That was unexpected. Because people thought that your epigenetic landscape was fixed, and we have shown that it is dynamic. This means that your DNA is not your destiny. It means that, although you inherit your DNA from your parents, you still have an opportunity to optimize your health by making changes in your lifestyle,” says Juleen Zierath.

The Chair of the Prize Committee, Mette Marie Rosenkilde, says:

“Juleen Zierath’s research accomplishments have been recognized both nationally and internationally. Her research group has been a leader in translational studies delineating the molecular mechanisms of type 2 diabetes. The group is also in the forefront of research into epigenetic modifications caused by such activity as exercise training. Ultimately, the research can contribute to developing new drugs that improve the insulin sensitivity of people with type 2 diabetes and improve their quality of life.”


Professor of Clinical Integrative Physiology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden; Professor, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen, Denmark; President, European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD).


The Novo Nordisk Foundation Lecture is a prize that is awarded to an active scientist from a Nordic country for an outstanding contribution within diabetes research and/or the treatment of diabetes. The prize is accompanied by an award of DKK 50,000 donated by the Novo Nordisk Foundation. A prize lecture is given at the annual conference of the Scandinavian Society for the Study of Diabetes.

The prize winner is selected by a committee comprising three members of the Nordic Research Committee of the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Chair of the Scandinavian Society for the Study of Diabetes.


Juleen Zierath, [email protected], tel.: +46 8 5248 7581

Mette Marie Rosenkilde, Chair, Prize Committee, Novo Nordisk Foundation Lecture, [email protected], mobile: +45 3060 4608

Christian Mostrup Scheel, Press Officer, Novo Nordisk Foundation, [email protected], mobile: +45 3067 4805