Bruce Spiegelman honored for metabolic disease research

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Bruce Spiegelman, director of the Center for Energy Metabolism and Chronic Disease at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and professor of cell biology and medicine at Harvard Medical School, has received Belgium’s most important international scientific prize for his contributions to understanding the mechanisms of metabolic disorders.

Queen Mathilde of Belgium presented Spiegelman with the 2015 Health Prize of the InBev-Baillet Latour Fund at a ceremony in Brussels on April 24. The Health Prize is awarded by the InBev-Baillet Latour Fund, which “aims to reward projects of high human value that hold hope and promise for the well-being of society.” The prize includes a cash award of 250,000 euros – approximately $270,000 USD. In Europe, only the Nobel Prize carries a larger amount: $1.1 million. First awarded in 1970, the Health Prize is intended to promote not only basic research but also applications to human health.

Spiegelman’s work “has revolutionized our views on the control of energy metabolism and on fat tissue,” the citation said. In a series of discoveries, he showed that fat tissue secretes hormones, identified PPAR γ, a master regulator of fat cell development, and two other regulatory proteins — PGC-1α and PRDM16. Recently he identified a new type of fat cell, the “beige” adipocyte, with important metabolic functions.

“These discoveries form much of our current understanding of energy regulation and offer new perspectives for the therapy of metabolic disorders,” the citation stated. Spiegelman’s research at Dana-Farber has relevance for cancer – and the cancer-related wasting disorder, cachexia — as well as an increased understanding of mechanisms underlying obesity, diabetes, and the effects of physical exercise.

“I’m pleased that our basic work on energy metabolism and fat cell development has been recognized both within and outside our field,” said Spiegelman.

“This reflects great work by many of my trainees over a long period of time,” he commented. “I hope that our research will open the door to new therapies in diseases like diabetes and cancer.”