NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Salih J. Wakil, Ph.D., L.T. Bolin Professor and chairman of the Verna and Marrs McLean Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, has been selected to receive the sixth annual Bristol-Myers Squibb Freedom to Discover? Award for Distinguished Achievement in Metabolic Research. He was recognized for his pioneering work in the field of fatty acid metabolism, including groundbreaking discoveries on the pathways for fatty acid synthesis in the body. His most recent work has provided new insights into how fat is metabolized in the body and identifies a potential drug target to help treat obesity and diabetes.
For more than a half century, Wakil has made seminal contributions to our knowledge of the central role of fatty acids in energy metabolism and cell function. He began his work at the University of Wisconsin's Institute for Enzyme Research, where he helped to elucidate the steps by which fatty acids are oxidized to generate energy for the cell. His first significant discovery in the 1950s set the stage for future efforts as he developed a classic set of experiments that led to the revolutionary finding that fatty acids are synthesized by a pathway wholly distinct from their oxidation. At Duke University, he built on those efforts, identifying individual enzymes that constitute the pathway for fatty acid synthesis in E.coli while offering additional insights into the construction of fatty acid chains in the body. At Baylor, his landmark discovery of a multifunctional enzyme called fatty acid synthase dispelled a long held concept that linked individual genes to the production of single enzymes -- the one-gene, one-enzyme hypothesis.
Most recently, he has focused his work on an enzyme called acetyl-CoA carboxylase or ACC, which exists in two forms, ACC1 and ACC2. He has genetically engineered what have come to be called "magic mice," which do not produce ACC2 and as a result can eat 20-30 percent more food and still weigh 10 percent less than mice that produce the enzyme. Not only do they not gain weight, but they also do not develop type 2 diabetes. The hope is that a drug may be developed that can inhibit ACC2, potentially protecting people who might become type 2 diabetics by preventing the accumulation of fat in muscle, the heart and liver.
"Dr. Wakil's critical insights have unraveled many of the secrets of fat metabolism in man," says Simeon Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., vice president, Cardiovascular and Metabolics Discovery Biology, Bristol-Myers Squibb. "At a time when the developed world is facing an obesity epidemic that threatens to markedly increase rates of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, his discoveries continue to point us in new and important directions, leading to potential new targets for drugs that could help us eventually control the development of type 2 diabetes as well as obesity. His enduring commitment to deciphering the mechanisms of fatty acid synthesis and oxidation at both the molecular and genetic levels has significantly advanced science."
Born in the small Iraqi city of Hilla, Wakil worked in a shoe shop beside his father as a young man. Because he placed so highly in an exam after high school, he was given the opportunity to study at the American University of Beirut. After graduating in 1948 with a B.Sc. in chemistry, he emigrated to the United States, receiving a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1952 from the University of Washington. He began his work on fat synthesis as a research associate at the Enzyme Institute of the University of Wisconsin, where he was named an assistant professor in 1956. Wakil joined the Department of Biochemistry at Duke University School of Medicine in 1959, rising to the rank of professor there. He left in 1971 to become professor and chairman of the Verna and Marrs McLean Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston Texas. He is currently Distinguished Service Professor at the school. Today, his department ranks among the top five in funding from the National Institutes of Health.
In 1967, still early in his career, Wakil won the Paul Lewis Award from the American Chemical Society, and since then has gone on to win many other prestigious awards. These have included the Chilton Award of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 1985, the Kuwait Prize of the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences in 1988, the Michael E. DeBakey, M.D., Excellence in Research Award from Baylor College of Medicine in 2001 and the Yamanouchi USA Foundation Award, also in 2001. In 1990, Wakil was the first Baylor College of Medicine faculty member to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. He is also the author of nearly 200 peer-reviewed articles in distinguished scientific journals.
The Bristol-Myers Squibb Freedom to Discover Unrestricted Biomedical Research Grants and Awards Program, under which the Distinguished Achievement Award is presented, was initiated in 1977. It marked its 25th anniversary in 2002, reaching a $100 million milestone in no-strings-attached funding in six biomedical research areas: cancer, cardiovascular, infectious diseases, metabolic diseases, neuroscience and nutrition. Wakil was selected by an independent panel of his peers, in a process in which Bristol-Myers Squibb takes no active role, to receive the Bristol-Myers Squibb Freedom to Discover Distinguished Achievement Award. The Award, a $50,000 cash prize and a silver commemorative medallion, is awarded annually in each of the six therapeutic areas. Wakil will receive his award at a dinner to be held in New York on October 20, 2005.
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For more information, contact: Becky Taylor, Corporate Communications, Bristol-Myers Squibb, 609-252-4476, firstname.lastname@example.org; or Lori E. Williams, Baylor College of Medicine, 713-798-7637, email@example.com