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The Breakthrough Prize is renowned as the “Oscars of Science" and honours transformative advances towards understanding living systems and extending human life. Associate Professor Ana Domingos reflects on her past experiences working with Dr Friedman and how these impacted her research today.

Jeff david ana

On Tuesday 11 June 2019, the Department hosted Jeffrey Friedman ForMemRS to deliver the inaugural Sir Hans Krebs Lecturein honour of the scientist awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for his ground-breaking discovery of the citric acid cycle.

In September 2019, Dr Friedman has been awarded the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences "for the discovery of a new endocrine system through which adipose tissue signals the brain to regulate food intake."

 

The Breakthrough Prize is a major accomplishment and only reserved for the very best of world leading scientists. 
- Head of Department, Prof David Paterson

Since Dr Friedman's 1994 discovery of the molecular pathway that regulates body fat, Friedman has been at the forefront of establishing the biological basis of obesity. His research elucidated the “leptin system” operating below the level of consciousness and “will power” that regulates when, what and how much we eat. Leptin therapy now treats patients with lipodystrophy, a rare but very severe form of diabetes. Leptin also has potential for a treating the subset of obese patients with low leptin levels as well as being used as part of new combinatorial therapies for patients with high leptin levels and who are resistant to leptin. The discovery of leptin has provided a new framework for understanding the pathogenesis of obesity by delineating the physiologic and neural mechanisms that regulate food intake and body weight.

Dr Friedman's work carries great impact for many Researchers, notably DPAG's own Associate Professor Ana DomingosHe was her Postdoctoral mentor from spring 2006 until autumn 2013. While working in Dr Friedman's laboratory, Prof Domingos answered a long-standing question: why do we like sugar, but not artificial sweeteners? The results that answered this question went on to be published both in Nature Neuroscience and eLife. Consequently, Prof Domingos went on to complete a training secondment with Karl Deisseroth at Stanford University to learn optogenetics and implement this technique in Dr Friedman's laboratory at Rockefeller University. Using optogenetics, among other techniques, together they discovered a neuronal circuit in the brain that mediates the reward value of sugar. This circuit involves glucose-sensitive MCH neurons, which communicate to dopaminergic neurons in the midbrain to convey the nutritional value of sugar.  

Working with Jeff was a cornerstone in my development as a scientist. He is an accomplished scientist and a role model who inspired me, and I am grateful that he invested his time on me. His work created the foundations of a new field of research that tackles the biological basis of Obesity. - Prof Ana Domingos