Rasmus Kjøbsted receives the DDA’s Young Investigator Award 2018 | Danish Diabetes and Endocrine Academy
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Rasmus Kjøbsted receives the DDA’s Young Investigator Award 2018


There are people who study for years before they have the slightest idea where in the world their education will take them. And then there are those who know from day one. That is more or less how it was for Rasmus Kjøbsted, a postdoc at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, who has just received the DDA’s Young Investigator Award 2018.

At a lecture given by Professor Jørgen Wojtaszewski during the first year of his sports course, Rasmus Kjøbsted was so fascinated that he grabbed the professor straight afterwards and told him that his subject was exactly what he dreamt of doing research on. It didn’t take long after that for him to become a regular visitor to his mentor’s laboratory, while still a first-year student.

‘I have always enjoyed the natural sciences and sport, and I realized very early on in the course that I wanted to do research. The fact that I ended up doing research at the molecular level in muscle and training physiology certainly has to do with my strong interest in the field. And there is no doubt that what I’m doing now is a vocation for me’, he says.

Rasmus Kjøbsted is not unaccustomed to explaining his research to laypeople. Broadly speaking, it is about what exercise before eating can do for people with diabetes – how the body responds better to insulin when someone has been out for a run than when they haven’t.

Rasmus Kjøbsted’s occupation is basic research, though, which means that he gets right down to the nuts and bolts in order to look at a particular protein. It is known as AMPK, and it is activated during exercise and capable of monitoring the energy status of the muscle cells. The hypothesis is that, the more active this protein is, the better the insulin action will be. In the long run, this may make it possible to target the protein as medication for diabetics.

‘In a collaboration with the medical company Pfizer, we recently published the first proof-of-concept study, in which we tested a drug that activates AMPK in muscle of diabetic mice and monkeys. When it is given to them, it is actually able to improve the regulation of the blood sugar levels both before and after a meal. In the future we hope that it will be possible to produce a pill that activates the AMPK protein in muscle. In the long term maybe we will be able to produce a ‘training pill’, because it is possible to imagine that at some point we will be able to get something approaching physical activity by taking a pill. But there is still a way to go, and we don’t yet know whether the method works on humans’, says Rasmus Kjøbsted.

There is no doubt that research is a very big part of the 34-year-old scientist’s life – and he admits that he is a little bit extreme when it comes to work.

‘A lot of people find it hard to understand, but it is a great passion for me. I don’t see it as a job, and if I could be allowed to keep on doing this, finding new links all the time, then I would be happy. So, I don’t dream of winning the Nobel Prize; just as long as I’m allowed to do what I do, I’m happy’, says Rasmus Kjøbsted.

The young researcher used to be able to work most of the hours in the day, but now something has happened in his life that shifts the balance somewhat.

‘I now have a lovely son who will soon be 2 years old, and he is the most important thing to me. I think it’s very healthy to have joys in life aside from work, in that way you’re at lower risk of burning out. My partner is also very good at reminding me to enjoy other things in life. But, after them, my research comes next – it really means a lot. I guess I’m not that good at visiting friends and family, and I no longer manage to exercise as much as I used to, either. But that’s the way it is – you have to prioritize’, says Rasmus Kjøbsted.