Professor Mark Febbraio goes for gold

Elite athlete, leading metabolic disease researcher, NHMRC senior principal research fellow and avid sports fan, Professor Mark Febbraio joined the Drug Discovery Biology Theme at MIPS in 2019 following a stint as Head of the Cellular and Molecular Metabolism Laboratory at the Garvan Institute for Medical Research.

From his resume bristling with publications and awards, it could be assumed that Professor Febbraio has spent a lifetime in research. But the photos littered across his office tell a different story.

An accomplished athlete, Professor Febbraio spent several years competing in triathlons across the world. Fascinated by human performance and endurance from his own experience, Professor Febbraio completed his PhD at Victoria University on how environmental temperature extremes can impact muscle metabolism during exercise.

His PhD paved the way to his research career. At the turn of the millennium, Professor Febbraio and his team made a breakthrough discovery in understanding how the human body responds to exercise and its implications for metabolic diseases.

The team discovered that skeletal muscles secrete a protein known as interleukin-6. Professor Febbraio and his colleagues coined the term “myokines” for proteins secreted from muscles. Myokines present a great hope for metabolic disease sufferers including diabetes and obesity.

Following the milestone myokines discovery, Professor Febbraio’s career has led to positions in prestigious research institutions across Europe and Australia while also becoming an NHMRC Fellow and receiving the Australian Diabetes Society Kellion Award, Sandford Skinner Oration and the A K McIntyre Prize.

Professor Febbraio’s passion is tackling obesity-related illnesses. Metabolic diseases are presenting as a growing pandemic in global communities. Research demonstrates that over 60% of cancers are linked to obesity.

His most recent discovery builds on 13 years of research, having developed a compound called IC7Fc, which has shown great success in preventing weight gain and improving glucose metabolism. The findings are a world first in showing that a single drug could be used to treat diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Now having returned to Melbourne, Professor Febbraio has a vision on how drug discovery biology can be further explored to better understand human physiology.

“MIPS has an excellent reputation as a world leader in GPCR research, medicinal chemistry and pharmacology. I’m hoping to harness that knowledge and take it to the next level,” said Professor Febbraio.

“I’m especially interested in the integration of medicinal chemistry and pharmacology to develop a stronger knowledge of translational biology.”

“We could really use the exceptional pharmacology expertise here at MIPS to bridge the gap between structural biology and pharmacology into tangible pathophysiology outcomes.”

“I’m hoping that we can show that exercise really is medicine. We’ve seen the shift in mentality, with more people being conscious of their sedentary lifestyle. It’s possible that in time, this changes for good.”