Jeffrey Friedman
Jeffrey Friedman at the Royal Society admissions day in London, July 2018
Born (1954-07-20) July 20, 1954 (age 69)
Alma materRockefeller University (PhD)
Known fordiscovery of the hormone leptin and its role in regulating body weight
Scientific career
FieldsMolecular genetics
InstitutionsRockefeller University
ThesisRegulation of liver gene expression (1986)

Jeffrey M. Friedman (born July 20, 1954) is a molecular geneticist at New York City's Rockefeller University and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His discovery of the hormone leptin and its role in regulating body weight has had a major role in the area of human obesity.[1] Friedman is a physician scientist studying the genetic mechanisms that regulate body weight. His research on various aspects of obesity received national attention in late 1994, when it was announced that he and his colleagues had isolated the mouse ob gene and its human homologue. They subsequently found that injections of the encoded protein, leptin, decreases body weight of mice by reducing food intake and increasing energy expenditure. Current research is aimed at understanding the genetic basis of obesity in human and the mechanisms by which leptin transmits its weight-reducing signal.


Friedman was born in Orlando, Florida on July 20, 1954, and grew up in North Woodmere, New York, graduating from Hewlett High School in the Class of 1971.[2] As a young man he aspired to becoming a physician. He entered a six-year medical program out of high school and received his M.D. at the age of 22. But after a year-long fellowship working in the laboratory of Mary Jane Kreek, he fell in love with the science life. "As a doctor, you're trained to absorb the facts you're given and accept them," says Friedman. "Science is almost the opposite. It's a frontier of discovery that's always moving. And I decided I wanted to do research." Friedman started his affiliation with the Rockefeller University in 1980,[3] where he was awarded a Ph.D. degree in 1986. Friedman received a BS from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1973 and M.D. degree from Albany Medical College in 1977 and completed a medical residency at Albany Medical College in 1980.[4] From 1980 to 1981, he also served as a postgraduate fellow at Cornell University Medical College.[5]

Career and research

Friedman was appointed Assistant Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at The Rockefeller University in 1986, promoted to Associate Investigator in 1991, and Investigator in 1996 and received the Marilyn M. Simpson professorship in 1998.

When Friedman started his own laboratory at The Rockefeller University, he turned his attention to the question of weight regulation. Working with a special strain of mice, he set out to identify the hormone that normal animals use to control their appetite - a molecule that was missing in the plump rodents. After eight years—on May 8, 1994, at 5:30 a.m.—he found what he was looking for: evidence that he'd located the gene that produces the hormone he later dubbed "leptin", after the Greek word for "thin" (λεπτός leptos).[4] "It was astonishingly beautiful", he says of the x-ray film that nailed the gene, a piece of data that now hangs on his office wall.[citation needed]

Numerous lines of evidence have suggested that energy balance in animals and humans is tightly controlled.[citation needed] With the identification of leptin and its receptors by Friedman's laboratory, two of the molecular components of a system that maintains constant weight were identified. Leptin is a hormone secreted by the adipose (fat) tissue in proportion to its mass that in turn modulates food intake relative to energy expenditure. Increased fat mass increases leptin levels, which in turn reduces body weight; decreased fat mass leads to a decrease in leptin] levels and an increase in body weight.[citation needed] By this mechanism, weight is maintained within a relatively narrow range. Defects in the leptin gene are associated with severe obesity in animals and in humans. Leptin acts on sets of neurons in brain centers that control energy balance.[citation needed] Leptin also plays a general role in regulating many of the physiologic responses that are observed with changes in nutritional state, with clear effects on female reproduction, immune function and the function of many other hormones, including insulin.[citation needed]

Leptin feeds into the circuit of neurons in the brain that controls eating and energy expenditure.[citation needed] When an animal loses weight, leptin concentrations fall. This dip in leptin levels instructs the body to search for food.[citation needed] In studies of obese mice, Friedman has found that leptin actually restructures the brain, rewiring the neural circuit that controls feeding.[citation needed] The hormone reinforces the nerve cells that encourage the body to slenderize and prunes the neurons that compel eating.[citation needed]

Friedman has published over one hundred and fifty publications and over ten book chapters.

He is also involved in the research [6] related to the 1st inbred rat model of obesity [7] and aging,[8] also known as WNIN/Ob obese rats developed in National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, India.

Awards and honors

Friedman's work in the area of obesity and the leptin gene has led to Friedman receiving many prestigious awards:

His work on leptin also garnered him much television time, including an appearance on the PBS show Scientific American Frontiers in a long interview with host Alan Alda.[14]

Personal life

Friedman lives in New York City with his wife, Lily Safani, and his twin daughters, Alexandra and Nathalie.[15][16]


  1. ^ Zhang, Y; Proenca, R; Maffei, M; Barone, M; Leopold, L; Friedman, JM (December 1994). "Positional cloning of the mouse obese gene and its human homologue". Nature. 1994 (372): 425–432. Bibcode:1994Natur.372..425Z. doi:10.1038/372425a0. PMID 7984236. S2CID 4359725.
  2. ^ Katz, Debra M. (February 5, 1995). "Long Island Q&A;: Jeffrey M. Friedman; Finding the Gene That Makes Mice, and Maybe Others, Fat". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Jeffrey M. Friedman - Nobel Conference 46 | Nobel Conference - 2010". Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  4. ^ a b "The Rockefeller University » Hospital Centennial". Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  5. ^ "Jeffrey Friedman, discoverer of leptin, receives Gairdner, Passano awards".
  6. ^ Kalashikam, R. R.; Battula, K. K.; Kirlampalli, V.; Friedman, J. M.; Nappanveettil, G. (2013). "Obese Locus in WNIN/Obese Rat Maps on Chromosome 5 Upstream of Leptin Receptor". PLOS ONE. 8 (10): 10. Bibcode:2013PLoSO...877679K. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0077679. PMC 3804619. PMID 24204914.
  7. ^ Giridharan, N V (1998). "Animal models of obesity & their usefulness in molecular approach to obesity". Indian J Med Res. 108: 225–42. PMID 9863278.
  8. ^ Sinha, Jitendra Kumar; Ghosh, Shampa; Swain, Umakanta; Giridharan, Nappan Veethil; Raghunath, Manchala (2014). "Increased macromolecular damage due to oxidative stress in the neocortex and hippocampus of WNIN/Ob, a novel rat model of premature aging". Neuroscience. 269: 256–64. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2014.03.040. PMID 24709042. S2CID 9934178.
  9. ^ "All Gairdner Awards Laureates". Gairdner Foundation. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  10. ^ "About the Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  11. ^ "Jeffrey Friedman, 2007 awardee". Danone Institute. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  12. ^ "Wolf Prize laureates announced". The Jerusalem Post | 16 January 2019. Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  13. ^ "Breakthrough Prize – Winners Of The 2020 Breakthrough Prize In Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics And Mathematics Announced". Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  14. ^ "Jeffrey M. Friedman, on season 14 , episode 1". Scientific American Frontiers. Chedd-Angier Production Company. 2004. PBS. Archived from the original on 2006-01-01.
  15. ^ "Lily Safani". New York BIO. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  16. ^ Ruppel Shell, Ellen (2002). The Hungry Gene: The Inside Story of the Obesity Industry. Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-4033-5. Retrieved 25 June 2020.