Professor Michael Cowley, Department of Physiology, Monash University, Melbourne.
Overweight and obesity have reached epidemic proportions in Australia. Less than one third of the Australian adult population has normal weight. Obesity is a known risk factor for a number of diseases and pathological conditions that among others include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some types of cancers and neuropsychiatric disorders. The brain plays a key role regulating human body weight and appetite. Professor Michael Cowley’s research has elucidated and published the detailed neuronal circuitry through which signals of body energy stores are detected by the brain and which control food intake and energy expenditure. Professor Cowley’s understanding of central neural networks has enabled him and co-workers to propose new drug combinations, which modify the activity of the circuits. Professor Cowley has been instrumental in the translation of his own and others’ basic research findings into therapeutic applications. The robust model of operation of brain neuronal networks led to intellectual property behind the establishment of a company, Orexigen Therapeutics of which he was the founder and chief scientist. His intellectual property also led to the foundation of Thiakis Inc, which is developing obesity drugs. Professor Cowley invented and helped to develop the drug, Contrave, which has just undergone the final phase of testing in the United States.