Gregory Steinberg completed his PhD at the University of Guelph, Canada, where he studied the role of leptin in muscle in the laboratory of Professor David Dyck. From 2002 to 2006, Greg was a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Bruce Kemp at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, Australia, where he studied the role of the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). In 2006, he started his academic career as Lecturer, Senior Research Fellow and Head of Metabolism at St Vincent’s Institute and the University of Melbourne. He returned to Canada in 2009 where his research studies cellular energy sensing mechanisms and looks at how endocrine factors, lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity are linked and contribute to the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Diabetes Canada-Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Diabetes Young Scientist Award; the Endocrine Society Richard E Weitzman Outstanding Early Career Investigator Award; the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Gold Leaf Prize; and the American Diabetes Association Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award. To help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin, Greg also recently took part in Diabetes Canada’s fitness fundraiser, ‘Lace Up for Diabetes’, riding 8000 km (the equivalent of crossing Canada) over a period of 80 days and raising almost $15,000 to help fund the next breakthrough discovery in the field. Coinciding with our issue theme of diabetes, which also marks the centenary of this discovery by Canadian scientists, The Biochemist spoke to Greg briefly about his work in this area.
Can you introduce our readers to the research you’re working on to do with insulin?
Our research has been focused on understanding mechanisms regulating cellular metabolism with a focus on fatty acids and inflammation. Insulin is a key hormone regulating multiple metabolic pathways in all cells of the body and is important for promoting the conversion of glucose into fatty acids.
Have there been any key findings in your research recently?
A key finding of our research has been understanding the mechanisms regulating fat metabolism and the importance of this in controlling how the body responds to insulin (insulin sensitivity) and contributes to proliferative pathways in cancer. Specifically, our research discovered the importance of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and acetyl-CoA carboxylase pathways in regulating liver lipogenesis and how this can cause fatty liver disease, insulin resistance and liver cancer.
Has your field of research changed over the years – and, if so, how?
The advent of genetic technologies has made it possible to directly test hypothesis about what enzymes and post-translational modifications are critical for regulating metabolic pathways and how this contributes to whole body energy metabolism, inflammation and proliferative pathways.
What implications could your work have for the treatment of diabetes?
Our research may have important implications for treating diabetes because it has discovered a new way to lower liver fat. Most people with type 2 diabetes have fatty liver disease, which causes insulin resistance and contributes to the development of liver fibrosis and liver cancer. The testing of several small molecules that regulate AMPK and acetyl-CoA carboxylase are currently in clinical trials in people with type 2 diabetes and/or fatty liver disease.
You are also an Associate Editor for the Biochemical Journal, which is published by the Biochemical Society and Portland Press. What’s the most rewarding part about being involved with the Editorial Board?
An exciting and rewarding part of being an Associate Editor for the Biochemical Journal is the opportunity to interact with such a diverse, international group of scholars. The Biochemical Journal is a leading bioscience journal exploring the molecular mechanisms that underpin key biological processes. As part of the Editorial Board, we are committed to publishing work that provides significant advances to current understanding or mechanistic insights, including studies that go beyond observational work using in vitro and/or in vivo approaches.
What inspired you to work in the molecular biosciences?
As a swimmer and triathlete, I was always trying to understand how to tweak my metabolism to maximize my performance during exercise. Later, when my grandmother was diagnosed with diabetes and my mother developed ovarian cancer, I wanted to try and apply this knowledge of metabolism to understanding ways to help people.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
As well as being an avid triathlete, I enjoy sailing and cross-country skiing in the winter months.