Professor Mark Febbraio
08 April 2015
Garvan is very pleased to announce that Professor Mark Febbraio has joined us as Head of the Diabetes and Metabolism Division.
Mark Febbraio has run a laboratory in Cellular and Molecular Metabolism at Melbourne’s Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute since 2006, and will continue his research at Garvan.
For the last decade, Mark has been examining cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying obesity-induced insulin resistance, a precursor of diabetes. He has identified several promising target molecules and aims to develop new drugs to treat diabetes. To that end, he set up and is Chief Scientific Officer of a USA-based biotechnology company known as N-Gene Research Laboratories Inc.
Mark’s group at Baker IDI, together with N-Gene Pharmaceuticals, developed a drug (BGP-15) currently in a multi-centre clinical trial for type 2 diabetes. The drug was also shown to have pre-clinical efficacy for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and will be undergoing clinical trials in humans.
A keen sportsman, Mark planned to become an exercise physiologist. He undertook a PhD in Exercise Physiology in the early 1990s, looking at the effect of environmental temperature on muscle metabolism. That led to academic positions, first at RMIT University and then at Melbourne University, teaching Respiratory Physiology and Exercise Physiology.
In the late 1990s, at exactly the same time as a laboratory in Copenhagen, he made a discovery that would entirely change his career path. Both groups discovered that a signaling molecule, or ‘cytokine’, known as interleukin 6, is secreted from skeletal muscle during exercise. Mark decided to collaborate with the Danish laboratory and undertook a sabbatical in Copenhagen in 2001. Together they coined the term ‘myokine’.
The finding demonstrated that muscle is a secretory organ, able to engage in cross talk with other organs, such as adipose tissue, liver, pancreas, bones and brain, although some myokines exert their effects only within muscle. It also showed that exercise, and lack of exercise, produce different myokine responses.
An NHMRC Research Fellowship followed in the wake of the myokine discovery, allowing a transition from academia to research.
Mark has won prizes at international, national and institutional levels, including the A K McIntyre Prize for significant contributions to Australian Physiological Science (1999), the Colin I Johnson Lectureship by the High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia (2006) the ESA/ADS Joint Plenary Lecture (2009) and the Sandford Skinner Oration (2011).
He is on the Editorial Board of Diabetes, The American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology & Metabolism, and the Journal of Applied Physiology.
Mark Febbraio’s goal at Garvan is to increase the clinical translational work of the Diabetes and Metabolism Division. “I think that the importance of each basic discovery is enhanced by translational research, and with the excellent clinician scientists we have in the Division we have an opportunity to make a real impact,” he said.