Medical professor Tamas L. Horvath has been appointed the Jean and David W. Wallace Professor of Biomedical Research, a position established just last summer. His research, which focuses on circuits in the brain, has examined metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes and how they can affect the brain. Horvath is chairman of the Section of Comparative Medicine, the founder and director of the Yale Program on Integrative Cell Signaling and Neurobiology of Metabolism, and won the National Institutes of Health’s Director’s Pioneer Award in 2010. He sat down with the News Tuesday to talk about his research.
Q What has some of your past research been about? What are the implications of your research?
A We are interested in how different parts of our body communicate with the brain to promote health and longevity and how these communications break down in various diseases. We found that a small set of neurons in a primitive part of our brain is very important in helping the body make decisions about how to survive in the changing environment.
Q What are you working on now?
A We are conducting studies to uncover the role of our metabolic state and our way of taking resources from our environment affect health and disease.
Q You are the founder and director of the Yale Program in Integrative Cell Signaling and Neurobiology of Metabolism. What led to the creation of this program, and what does it entail?
A We developed this program to promote the idea that no single approach can solve the problem of integrative physiology and complex diseases. We believe that combining expertise in various tissues and mechanisms is the only way one can get transformational answers for the treatment of diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
Q Given the recent slew of bad weather, how have you managed to stay warm and/or dry?
A Challenges force you to find new ways to survive!
Q Any parting words?
A There is a misconception that it is the brain that makes humans best succeed in the environment. Plants are much more successful in this without having a central nervous system (consider the longest-living creatures on earth). It is fundamental for the enhancement of our abilities to fight the elements and promote the principles of humanity to understand how and why the brain evolved in species such as humans. We need to have a bottom-up approach rather than a top-to-bottom view to fully understand the functions and malfunctions of our brains and, through that, our existence.