The prize is given for his research into metabolic disease. In particular, it recognises his efforts to understand hereditary metabolic disorders that cause obesity and diabetes. He shares the prize with Dr Jeffrey M. Friedman of Rockerfeller University, New York.
Professor O’Rahilly and Dr Freidman’s work on the leptin gene in mice has shown that single gene mutations can cause significant obesity in human patients. Importantly, this has led to widespread recognition of obesity as a hereditary disorder. The Gertrud Reemtsma Foundation describes this as ‘one of the most important breakthroughs in metabolic research since the discovery of insulin’. It has also led to the development of new treatments for patients with conditions like lipodystrophy.
The K-J. Zülch Prize is awarded annually for ‘outstanding achievements in basic neurological research’. The award is is endowed with 50,000 Euros and is shared by two scientists who are selected by a jury. This year the award was presented on 12th September at the historic town hall of Cologne, Germany.
Professor O’Rahilly is based at the University of Cambridge, where he is Co-Director of the Institute of Metabolic Science and Director of the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit. He also holds a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award for a project focused on Mechanisms of Human Insulin Resistance. For more on his work, see his recent profile in CAM magazine.