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Prize recipient has clarified the health benefits of exercise

Professor Zhen Yan is receiving the 2022 Jacobæus Prize for his long-term contribution to improving the understanding of how important exercise is to health. The Prize is accompanied by DKK 1.5 million.

Scarcely anyone doubts that exercising is healthy. Exercise has many benefits, from the heart and lungs to the brain and reducing the risk of becoming overweight.

One researcher who has contributed to the fundamental understanding of why exercise is healthy throughout a long research career is Zhen Yan, Professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech Carilion, Roanoke, United States.

Zhen Yan’s research on how exercise affects mitochondria and skeletal muscles has chronicled how exercise influences the body at the molecular level. He has also advocated that doctors not just write prescriptions for medicine for people with chronic heart failure but also prescribe exercise.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation is awarding the 2022 Jacobæus Prize to Zhen Yan for his major contribution to the research field.

The purpose of the Prize, which is accompanied by DKK 1.5 million, is to promote medical research, and it is awarded annually to a distinguished international researcher, who is invited to give a lecture on his or her research.

“Zhen Yan’s research has contributed important knowledge at the molecular level about adaptation to exercise and disease. This inspiring research uses innovative approaches and is always of the highest quality. We want to recognise this important contribution by awarding him the 2022 Jacobæus Prize,” says Henriette Pilegaard, Professor, Committee on Endocrinology and Metabolism, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Many major discoveries
Zhen Yan says that his research is driven by a passion to find answers to why exercise is so extremely beneficial for health. Much of this research has focused on understanding the role of mitochondria.

Mitochondria provide energy for virtually all cell functions. Normal mitochondrial function is therefore critical for good health, whereas impaired mitochondrial function is associated with the development of many diseases.

Mitochondrial function and exercise also clearly interact, and Professor Yan’s research has elucidated this.

Research in Zhen Yan’s laboratory has shown the following.

  • Regular exercise during pregnancy can reduce the negative effect of the mother’s and father’s obesity on the health of the unborn child. One reason is that exercise blocks the negative effect of harmful chemical reactions associated with the obesity of the mother or father on modifying the unborn child’s genes.
  • Regular exercise causes skeletal muscle to produce more of a type of antioxidants that are transported to various organs, where they protect against various diseases, including heart failure and COVID-19-induced respiratory impairment.
  • An enzyme with an important regulatory function in metabolism is associated with mitochondria and is responsible for removing old and dysfunctional mitochondria in various tissues to make way for new, functional mitochondria.

“These discoveries have already led to more awareness of how exercise benefits the general population and will lead to even more in the future. They will also have the potential to lead to policy changes to promote more physical activity and the development of effective pharmaceutical interventions that can mimic the effects of exercise,” explains Zhen Yan.

Passionate scientist
Zhen Yan says that he is grateful that his work has enabled him to explore the unknown by standing on the shoulders of so many researchers before him.

This is why he is greatly humbled to receive the 2022 Jacobæus Prize.

“I consider myself fortunate to have had many generous mentors throughout my career. They have each played an instrumental role in shaping my passion for science. Finally, I am also more than grateful to my wife, my sweetheart at medical school, who at every step of my research has contributed significantly to making the adventure possible,” says Zhen Yan.

Zhen Yan will receive the 2022 Jacobæus Prize on 14 October 2022 at Lundbeck Auditorium, Biocentret, Ole Maaløes Vej 5, DK-2200 Copenhagen N, Denmark.

About the Jacobæus Prize

The Jacobæus Prize was established in 1939 to commemorate Swedish professor Hans Christian Jacobæus. The purpose of the Prize is to promote medical research, and it is awarded annually to a distinguished international researcher, who is invited to give a lecture on his or her research on a topic within physiology or endocrinology. The accompanying award of DKK 1,500,000 (€200,000) is distributed as a personal award of DKK 250,000 and an award for research or development work of DKK 1,250,000.

The Prize is awarded under the auspices of the Committee on Endocrinology and Metabolism of the Novo Nordisk Foundation, with lectures being held mainly at Scandinavian universities or in European cities and towns connected with medical research.

Hans Christian Jacobæus (1879–1937) was a Swedish professor and pioneering clinical researcher who developed a method for exploring the pleural cavity (thoracoscopy) using a cystoscope, which greatly improved the diagnosis and treatment of lung diseases, especially tuberculosis. Hans Christian Jacobæus served on the Board of the Nordisk Insulin Foundation from its inception in 1926 and until his death.

Further information

Christian Mostrup
Senior Lead, Public Relations
+45 3067 4805 [email protected]