SOPHIA to combat obesity
16 million euros in funding for EU project

Ulm University

Around 150 million Europeans are affected by obesity (adiposity). People affected by obesity often suffer not only from excess weight, but also from various related diseases. Researchers working on the recently launched project SOPHIA are now investigating the risk factors that promote overweight and associated complications as well as which treatments various patients groups respond to. Equipped with 16 million euros in funding, a group of 29 academic and industrial partners from primarily European countries are joining forces and pooling their expertise. In Germany, Ulm University is contributing a large diabetes and adiposity registry. The Central Institute of Biomedical Engineering (ZIBMT), which belongs to the Ulm Institute of Epidemiology and Medical Biometry, is responsible for coordinating the registry.

Severe overweight is as common as it is hazardous to health. And yet, it is nearly impossible to predict who, among the approximately 650 million people afflicted worldwide, will develop serious secondary diseases. The more than 200 known complications range from diabetes and cardiovascular diseases to arthrosis. Researchers from 12 countries are working together on the project SOPHIA (Stratification of Obese Phenotypes to Optimize Future Obesity Therapy) to identify risk factors and predictors for obesity-related diseases. The consortium, which is led by University College Dublin, is also investigating how to identify the best treatments for various patient groups.

The results of this project are intended to benefit not only the people who are directed affected by obesity, but also the scientific community and the healthcare system. “Our mission within SOPHIA is to enable healthcare professionals to reliably predict the complications of obesity and who will respond to treatment”, explains project coordinator Professor Carel le Roux from University College Dublin. According to Marianne Ølholm Larsen Grønning (Novo Nordisk), who is the project leader, obesity is a chronic disease and a lot is still unknown about the biology of the disease itself as well as how treatment can impact the lives of patients with obesity.

Special focus on the health effects of diabetes

SOPHIA will also focus on the health effects of diabetes (type 1 and 2): “In some European countries, only half of the adults with type 1 diabetes and more than 80 per cent of the adults with type 2 diabetes suffer from overweight or obesity”, explains Professor Reinhard Holl, a diabetes expert from Ulm.

Over the next five years, the researchers from 12 different countries plan to create a large database and conduct statistical analyses as well as patient interviews. One of SOPHIA’s core elements is the inclusion of people affected by the disease. In order to include the opinions and wishes of affected patients, a "patient advisory board" will be established to accompany the project. Ultimately, the research project should also help to ensure that obesity becomes recognised as a chronic disease rather than a weakness of will.

The Central Institute of Biomedical Engineering at the Institute of Epidemiology and Medical Biometry in Ulm is contributing two large national registries for the SOPHIA project. The Diabetes Registry (DPV) currently contains data on around 650,000 patients of all age groups and with all types of diabetes. The Adiposity Registry (APV) focuses on overweight children, adolescents and young adults and contains data from around 120,000 patients. “For these registries, by far the largest in the SOPHIA project, long-term data is collected in Ulm, which is then analysed using modern mathematical methods. Based on this information, we can model factors that are associated with weight gain and loss in the case of obesity or diabetes, for example”, explains project collaborator Dr Nicole Prinz.

Project brings together researchers, pharmaceutical companies and patients

The SOPHIA project is being funded through the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a joint undertaking of the European Commission and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). Further support comes from JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), the Obesity Action Coalition and the T1D Exchange. The aim of the Innovative Medicines Initiative is to speed up the development of new treatments. In order to achieve this aim, the initiative promotes collaboration between universities, pharmaceutical companies, patient organisations and other facilities.

Media contact: Annika Bingmann


Prof Reinhard Holl and Dr Nicole Prinz
Prof Reinhard Holl and Dr Nicole Prinz (Photos: Elvira Eberhardt / Uni Ulm)
The EU project SOPHIA is investigating the risk factors that promote obesity and associated complications (Photo: Pixelio)
Blood glucose measurement
The project focuses on the connection between diabetes and obesity (Photo: Colourbox)