Professor Grahame Hardie, of the University of Dundee, has been selected for the prestigious 2008 Rolf Luft Award, which he will receive later this month at a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden.
The award was created in 2000 in honour of Professor Rolf Luft, Sweden’s most famous endocrinologist, and is awarded by the famed Karolinska Institute and the Rolf Luft Foundation for Diabetes Research.
Professor Hardie is Head of the Division of Molecular Physiology in the College of Life Sciences at Dundee. He also holds a Chair in Cellular Signalling at the University.
The award recognises Professor Hardie’s discovery over twenty years ago of an enzyme called AMPK, and his subsequent development of the concept that it acts as the key sensor of energy status in living cells and organisms. His work has provided new insights into conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
“I am absolutely delighted to be given the Rolf Luft Award,” said Professor Hardie. “Looking at the list of previous winners of this prize it is a real honour to be included in their company.
“It also pleasing to receive this particular prize because the work we do is relevant to some of the key findings made by Rolf Luft. He discovered the first human disorder (Luft’s disease) linked to defects in mitochondria, which generate the universal carrier of energy (ATP) within cells. We have shown that it is the AMPK system that monitors the production of ATP and mounts a response if it is compromised, as would happen in Luft’s disease.
“Sadly, Rolf Luft died last year and I never met him, but I’m sure he would have been very interested in our research in Dundee.”
Professor Hardie came to Dundee in 1976 to work as a postdoctoral fellow. He was appointed Professor of Cellular Signalling in 1994 and assumed leadership of the Division of Molecular Physiology in 2004.
This is the second time in three years a Dundee academic has received the prize – Professor Sir Philip Cohen having been given the award in 2006.
Other previous winners of the award include Jeffrey Friedman of the Rockefeller University, New York, for the discovery of the appetite-controlling hormone leptin, Ronald Kahn, the Director of the Joslin Diabetes Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, for discovering the biological activity of the insulin receptor and Steven O’Rahilly, of the Department of Clinical Biochemistry of the University of Cambridge, UK, for the identifying genes that control obesity.
Born in Stockholm in 1914, Rolf Luft made many seminal discoveries in the field of endocrinology. These included solving the problem of where androgens are made and how a lack of these hormones causes Addison’s disease, the discovery of the beneficial effect of the hormone ACTH for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, and the discovery of the first disease of energy production, now called Luft’s disease.
The AMPK enzyme is switched on when energy levels in the cell fall, and drives processes which stimulate energy production, while preventing energy-consuming processes. For example, during exercise, when the demand for energy is dramatically increased in muscle, AMPK switches on the uptake and metabolism of glucose and fats to provide the required energy. It is thought to be responsible for many of the health benefits of regular exercise.
The AMPK system is involved in obesity and type 2 diabetes, conditions which can be regarded as disorders of energy balance. It is switched on by the drug metformin, which is currently prescribed to over 120 million patients with type 2 diabetes worldwide. The AMPK system continues to be investigated by all of the major pharmaceutical companies as they seek to develop improved treatments for these disorders. Its applications in cancer treatment are also currently being investigated.
Hundreds of research papers on the enzyme are now published every year and it is the subject of many major conferences around the world, with Professor Hardie frequently giving keynote addresses.