Interview: Preventing and treating obesity using cold sensation

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Image: Dr. Pragyanshu Khare

Research Alumni Interview with the experienced Humboldt Fellow and soccer enthusiast Dr. Mahendra Bishnoi

Nutritional insecurity is the biggest concern worldwide. It has two extremes, one is malnutrition/undernutrition and other is overnutrition/obesity. According to WHO’s The World Health Statistics, non- communicable diseases (obesity, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer etc) are the prime cause of huge manual and economic losses. Obesity is invariably associated with other metabolic complications like type 2 diabetes, cardiac complications and certain type of cancers.

Dr. Bishnoi joined FAU as an experienced Humboldt Fellow working with Prof. Katharina Zimmermann´s group at the Anaesthesiological Clinic of the Universitätsklinikum Erlangen to decipher the link between cold sensation and energy expenditure. His research is focused on understanding the role of pharmacological cold mimicking using TRPM8 activation in brown adipose tissue activation and its implications in metabolic disorders.

The research facilities and the scientific environment at FAU and particularly at my host laboratory are exceptional.

Dr. Bishnoi, what exactly are you researching and what initially sparked your interest in this field?

My field of research is ion channels, cold sensation and metabolic disorders mainly obesity. Sensing of warm or cold temperature beyond the thermoneutral zone can induce increase in energy expenditure. The question of interest to me was, is there a pharmacological or nutritional way to mimic this and if yes, how does it work mechanistically.

You have been a guest researcher at FAU since July 2021. Why did you choose FAU for your stay?

My host Prof. Dr. Katharina Zimmermann is a well-known researcher in the area of sensory ion channels and thermoregulation. Her work on the physiology of cold sensation induced pain perception including tooth pain is highly cited. As I wanted to work on the pharmacological cold mimicking, its role in brown adipose tissue activation and metabolism, I contacted her and she agreed to be my host during the Humboldt Fellowship.

How do you rate the research conditions at FAU – for your subject and in general?

The research facilities and the scientific environment at FAU and particularly at my host laboratory are exceptional. The Preclinical Experimental Animal Centre (PETZ) facility, which is essential for my research work, is very sophisticated and world class.

How would you assess the importance of your research for society?

I am working towards understanding novel pathways related to adaptive thermogenesis and energy expenditure following cold sensation. My work has applications in the field of prevention and therapeutics of obesity.

You came to Erlangen together with your family. Did you and your family settle in well?

Yes, we settled in well. Luckily, we got an apartment near the city Centre. My kids, Fateh (age 10) and Zara (age 7) are going to school. They are making new friends and are having the unique opportunity of learning the German language. My wife, Nona, is so in love with language that she is taking German language courses.

I am a soccer fan, and love watching weekend soccer games with my son.

What was your very first impression of the city and the region?

The region, Erlangen and Nuremberg, has a very rich history and culture. The uniqueness of some of the buildings and their preservation since hundreds of years is so impressive. It is refreshing to walk around the city. I was also impressed with the outdoor culture. On weekends, people do different activities in parks and other areas. I have seen people doing sports, biking even in the rain. In addition, beer gardens are unique.

Do you have a favourite place at FAU or in Erlangen?

I like the whole city, it is small and everything is approachable. That is why I bike around the city during weekends. Now, I think in wintertime it will be challenging.

Is there something you miss from your home country India?

Not anything. We really love it here.

What else do you enjoy besides research?

I am a soccer fan, and love watching weekend soccer games with my son. We do predictions, tactical analysis and what ifs before and after the games. We are fans of Liverpool Football Club which has the same song “You will never walk alone” as two of the greatest German Bundesliga clubs, Dortmund and Mainz.

Thank you for the interview, Dr. Bishnoi! (Interview: Christina Dworak, January 2022)

About Dr. Mahendra Bishnoi:

After obtaining a Bachelor of Pharmacy at Guru Jambheswar University, Hisar, Haryana, India, Dr. Bishnoi completed a Master of Pharmacy (Pharmacology) at the University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (UIPS), Panjab University, Chandigarh, India. There he did his doctorate on “Studies on the neurochemical basis of tardive dyskinesia and related movement disorders”. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Bishnoi´s path led him to Department of Psychiatry, McKnight Brain Institute, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA and the Department of Pharmacology, Southern Illinois University-School of Medicine, Springfield, Illinois, USA. Since 2011, he works as a Scientist at the National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute (Department of Biotechnology, Government of India), SAS Nagar, Punjab, India. Furthermore, Dr. Bishnoi is Associate Professor (Adjunct) at the Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB), Faridabad.

His research areas are diet, receptor pharmacology and preclinical drug/bioactive testing,nutrition and public health (obesity, metabolic disorders), gut health and disease.

FAU Research Alumni: At home all over the world with FAU at heart

FAU is proud of its international alumni community, which also includes the numerous renowned researchers and young scientists who come to FAU from all over the world. They carry FAU into the world and are therefore an indispensable part of the FAU family and the international Alumni Network.

They enrich research at FAU with their scientific expertise and contribute to the uniqueness and diversity of the FAU family with their own stories. We want to hear these stories, we want to tell these stories – and therefore the FAU Alumni Management regularly interviews the (future) Research Alumni.

You are currently an international researcher at FAU or have been doing research at FAU for at least three months? Then become a member of the FAU family by registering free of charge.