The Fondation IPSEN has awarded its 11th Endocrine Regulation Prize to Jeffrey M. Friedman, the Marilyn M. Simpson Professor and head of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, for his discovery of the hormone leptin and its role in regulating body weight.
The French foundation, whose mission is to facilitate the development and dissemination of scientific knowledge, grants the prize to a researcher or physician who has carried out work essential to a better understanding of the role of neuroendocrine interactions in regulating the body’s major metabolic functions. Fondation IPSEN also awards prizes in neuronal plasticity, behavioral neurology and longevity.
Friedman, who is an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, researches the molecular mechanisms that regulate food intake and body weight. His studies of obesity gained national attention in December 1994, when Friedman and his colleagues published a landmark paper in the journal Nature, in which they identified a gene in mice and humans called obese (ob) that codes for a hormone he later named leptin, after the Greek word leptos, for thin.
Friedman and colleagues showed that leptin is a hormonal signal made by the body’s fat cells that regulates food intake and energy expenditure. It has powerful effects on reproduction, metabolism, other endocrine systems and even immune function. Friedman’s observations have reframed views on the pathogenesis of obesity and suggested that the development of approaches to improve leptin response in resistant individuals could provide new treatments for obesity.
Current research in Friedman’s lab is aimed at elucidating the molecular mechanisms responsible for the regulation of leptin gene expression associated with weight changes.
Friedman graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and, in 1977 at the age of 22, received his M.D. from Albany Medical College of Union University. After completing two residencies at Albany Medical Center Hospital, he came to Rockefeller as a postgraduate fellow and associate physician in 1980. In 1986 he received his Ph.D., working in the lab of James E. Darnell Jr., and was appointed assistant professor. In 1991 he was named head of laboratory, and in 1995 he was promoted to professor. He was appointed the Marilyn M. Simpson Professor in 1999. He has been an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1986.
A member of the National Academy of Sciences and its Institute of Medicine, Friedman’s honors include the 2010 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine, the Keio Medical Science Prize, the Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal, the Danone International Prize for Nutrition, the Gairdner Foundation International Award and the Passano Foundation Award.
Previous Rockefeller recipients of Fondation IPSEN prizes include Bruce S. McEwen and Donald W. Pfaff, who shared the 2010 prize in neuronal plasticity, and Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who won the neuronal plasticity prize in 1996.