Researcher Reflections: Hermina Jakupović

Posted on 07.11.2023

Hermina Jakupović has just completed her PhD Scholarship on ‘Interplay between Genetic Predisposition, Prenatal Factors, and Obesity in the Development of the Type 2 Diabetes’ at Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR), University of Copenhagen with a grant from Danish Diabetes Academy (DDA) (now known as Danish Diabetes and Endocrine Academy).

We have asked Hermina Jakupović to reflect on her time as a DDA-funded researcher.

What are the most important findings of your research project?

Overall, the key findings indicate that the effect of obesity on type 2 diabetes risk is not modified by neither genetic predisposition nor birth weight. Our findings showed that obesity and an unfavourable lifestyle are independent risk factors for the incidence of type 2 diabetes, regardless of genetic risk. Obesity was found to be the strongest predictor of type 2 diabetes incidence. Among individuals with obesity, 14.9% of those with low birth weight developed type 2 diabetes, compared to 11.2% of those with high birth weight. We observed that individuals with low birth weight have a less favourable body composition and fat distribution in each adult weight category, while individuals with high birth weight have higher body fat-free mass. We also found a significant relationship between genetic factors influencing fetal insulin resistance and birth weight, as well as between genetic factors influencing fetal and maternal insulin secretion and birth weight. This provides an important insight into the biological regulation of birth weight, which may help prevent adverse outcomes related to fetal growth during pregnancy.

How is your research project relevant to the public?

Results highlight the importance of weight management by a long-term healthy lifestyle as a primary prevention strategy for type 2 diabetes, regardless of genetic risk or birth weight.

What was a highlight in your time as a DDA-funded researcher?

Traveling to several international conferences, my research stay in Bristol (UK), and many events organised by DDA (with an impressive line-up of national and international speakers always!). I met many kind, fun, and skilled people. This has been essential for my research, and for how I feel about being a researcher, and I am sure I will carry all this to the future as well.

Which challenges have you encountered on your way?

To name one, the COVID-19 pandemic was a low point. Fortunately, I had planned my project around already collected data, so I could quickly adjust to the new situation despite the sudden issues with data access (the great extent of flexibility is a big upside in projects relying on genetic epidemiology).

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice before starting your research project, what would it be?

I wrote this to my thesis prologue for a reason: “Even though there is not always a sign of any particular path ahead, and even if there is one (more likely there are several) – the final work never occurs according to plan A.” I have learned to let the ends be loose enough to capture the things we did not think about initially.

What has your DDA grant meant for your research, education, and network?

It has really been essential for my research, and it was encouraging to get the grant as a young researcher who had just moved from Finland to Denmark! I was pleased to see others interested in my research ideas and questions. On top of that, DDA provided a very unique platform for networking and education. All of this kept me curious and shaped me as a young researcher. “DD(E)A network” is perfect for finding peer support and collaborators and seeking guidance for future careers!

What is next for you?

I am brewing my research ideas further and seeking to get them funded. I would like to bridge academia with industry or the clinical world in the future. I am open and curious to find myself wherever my research takes me – maybe it is something I planned, but most likely it will also be directed by the unforeseen, just like most things are. It is exciting and scary, but mostly exciting!

Hermina’s closest collaborators have been Professor Emeritus Thorkild IA. Sørensen and Professor Nicholas J. Timpson. Hermina received additional travel grants from SUND Graduate School, The European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), and Danish Cardiovascular Academy (DCA), which have supported her to achieve internationalisation during her PhD.

We wish Hermina Jakupović all the best in her future career.

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