Published on January 14, 2021 Updated on January 15, 2021
It has been six months since the SPHERES project started in a middle of a pandemic. How have the researchers adapted to this situation? What are the progress and next steps? Mikael Rydén, Professor of Clinical and Experimental Fat Tissue Research at the Department of Medicine, Huddinge (Karolinska Institutet) since 2013, and principal investigator of the project, addresses these issues.

Q: The project started 6 months ago, right in the middle of a pandemic. What is your assessment of these first 6 months? Has the pandemic had an impact on the project? In what way?

A: This has indeed been a crazy year where all our detailed planning has had to be changed. We had prepared for a really strong and interactive kick-off meeting in Toulouse which had to be cancelled and replaced by a virtual kick-off on line in the fall of 2020. That said, I have to say that it went better than expected, we had interesting presentations from all three groups and were able to identify individuals to include in the many subprojects. Of course, a large part of SPHERES revolves around F2F interactions between our groups but I think we are now poised to have this started in the most productive way once the travel restrictions are hopefully removed later this year. In the meantime we are all working on the common goals, particularly those in WP1, and are drafting the first joint manuscripts at this moment. A number of task groups have been formed and virtual meetings are being held continuously.

Q: What is the expertise of your team in this project ?

A: Our contribution is primarily revolving around studies in clinical cohorts and validations in human adipose tissue samples. A large part of the work is focused on cell cultures and advanced studies in primary and immortalized human fat cell models where 3D culture systems have been set up. We have also been very busy in establishing CRISPR/Cas9 editing as well as more advanced approaches to target protein expression. The last few months have therefore been instrumental in providing the tools for the proposed studies and I believe that everything goes according to plan.

Q: What is for you the added value of working in an international team ?

A: There are no national borders in our field and the most important thing is to generate high quality data together with the best teams in the world. I am very proud to work with the groups of Profs Langin and Antonny and I believe that our complimentary expertise will results in truly synergistic results that will hopefully open up for new research areas. Being an integral part of SPHERES also implies that we have the possibility to recruit the best young researchers to the project and I think that this provides a solid foundation for a long-term collaboration that spans beyond the next 5-6 years.

Q: After these first 6 months of work, what are the next milestones and short-term objectives?

A: Following the initial work, which is very much focused on establishing the technical tools necessary to attain the ambitious goals of SPHERES, we will start dwelling into the fundamental biological and clinical questions that we have. What makes a large fat cell bad to your health? How does the lipid droplet contribute to this response? Can we tamper with this process and would that be a possible therapeutic strategy in the future? These questions may seem simple but they are not, we are still struggling to understand these mechanisms and with the joint efforts in SPHERES I hope that we will be able to answer them. The next mile stones will therefore involve characterizing clinical samples using multiple strategies and start evaluating the causal mechanisms using the cell and animal models we have set up during the first phase of the project.