In Belgium a unique science prize, the InBev-Baillet Latour Health Prize, recognizes someone whose pioneering research has led to the practical application of fundamental research. The international jury chose Professor Stephen O’Rahilly as the 2010 recipient for his work that identified a number of genetic factors that contribute to obesity. His research changed the way that many people think about the causes of obesity and altered the way that many patients are treated for obesity-related disease.
Metabolic diseases, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, are a growing concern associated with a variety of symptoms including cardiovascular disease, neurological degeneration and some types of cancer. Dr O’Rahilly was the first person to show that a single or very small number of genetic variations can predispose individuals to obesity. He has helped identify many crucial genetic elements that contribute to the complex pathophysiological mechanisms of metabolic diseases. The list of implicated genes that he has linked to metabolic disease continues to grow, but already includes genes that regulate appetite, insulin synthesis, insulin sensitivity and the cellular response to insulin. He and his colleagues have not only showed that a deficiency of leptin, an adipose-derived hormone, predisposed individuals to obesity but they also helped patients normalize their body weight through the administration of recombinant leptin. His work also shows that genetic factors predispose certain individuals to type 2 diabetes. Dr O’Rahilly’s integration of patient information with mouse studies has illuminated new inroads to treating metabolic disease.
DMM would like to congratulate its founding editor, Dr Stephen O’Rahilly for this recognition of his contributions to science and medicine.