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Friedman ’77 Receives Lasker Award for Discovery of Leptin

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* Friedman ’77 Receives Lasker Award for Discovery of Leptin
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Jeffrey Friedman ’77, M.D., professor and head of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at Rockefeller University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, has been awarded the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. The Lasker Award is the nation’s most distinguished honor for outstanding contributions to basic and clinical medical research; nearly half of the winners of the award have gone on to
win a Nobel Prize.

Friedman shares the award with Douglas Coleman, emeritus scientist at the Jackson Laboratory. The two were honored for discoveries that led to the identification of leptin, a hormone that regulates appetite and body weight
—a breakthrough that opened obesity research
to molecular exploration.

“For me, the best prize was having had the chance to make a discovery,” said Friedman in his acceptance remarks at the award ceremony Oct. 1. “This moment of discovery was exhilarating.”

In 1994 Friedman published a landmark paper in which he identified a gene in mice and humans called obese (ob) that produces a hormone he later named leptin (after the Greek word leptos, for thin). The discovery of leptin provided a genetic explanation of obesity, challenging the popular belief that lack of willpower causes people to be obese.

In addition to providing scientists with a new target for treating obesity, the discovery of leptin has helped scientists develop treatments for other metabolic conditions, including certain forms of diabetes.

Friedman earned his bachelor’s degree in biology at Rensselaer, his M.D. at Albany Medical College, and his Ph.D. at Rockefeller University. His many honors include the 2009 Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine, the 2009 Keio Medical Science Prize, the 2007 Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal, and the 2005 Gairdner Foundation International Award. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and its Institute of Medicine.
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