Professor Keith N. Frayn, University of Oxford, is the first winner of the Blaxter Award. Read our Q&A with Professor Frayn to find out more about his research and his lecture at the Summer Conference on 12 July.
1) Your aim has been to elucidate pathways by which we lay down fat in adipose tissue. Has it been as complex as you expected?
I think research always shows things to be more complex than you expect – and to take (at least) twice as long. In this case perhaps the biggest issue was developing appropriate methods to study a pathway that essentially has to be studied in vivo, rather than at the cellular or molecular level.
2) The major route of fat deposition in humans consuming a western diet is the direct uptake of fat through the LPL pathway. Does fat deposition vary between diets?
Almost certainly, although I think this general conclusion would hold for most diets that are not too extreme. The pathway of de novo lipogenesis (synthesis of fat from glucose or other precursors) has only been shown to make a net contribution to fat storage under the extreme condition of over-feeding (i.e. more than energy requirements) mainly with carbohydrate. Whether it would also be the predominant pathway in a state of energy balance when carbohydrate is the dominant energy source remains to be investigated.
3) What is the key to improving metabolic health?
I have summarised this in the title of my talk as ‘turning over our fat stores’. By that I mean that each day we need to mobilise and oxidise a significant amount of fat; this effectively allows ‘storage space’ for the adipocytes to take up more incoming dietary fat, thus keeping this fat away from other organs that never evolved to store it. That is the view of a lipid physiologist. But in practice it really means exercising and maintaining energy balance.
4) The conference theme is ‘Getting energy balance right’. How do we achieve this?
That’s a very big question and I am looking forward to hearing what the experts think at the Society’s meeting in Leeds. Personally I believe that exercise has a very important role to play, not just as a way of expending energy but for its other benefits also: a headline in today’s paper says that “Just an hour a week of exercise can reverse mental decline”!
Professor Keith N. Frayn will present his award winning lecture, 'Turning over our fat stores: the key to metabolic health' on 12 July at the Summer Conference at the University of Leeds.