When Dr. Jeff Friedman followed in his father’s path to become a doctor, he entered a six-year medical program out of high school and received an M.D. at the age of 22. After a yearlong fellowship working in the lab of The Rockefeller University's Mary Jane Kreek, he fell in love with the science life. Today, using advanced techniques in neurobiology and genetics, Dr. Friedman has identified and characterized the activity of leptin, a hormone secreted by fat cells that balances food intake and energy expenditure. By studying leptin, as well as other genes that influence weight, Friedman hopes to eventually aid in the development of therapies to combat obesity. Dr. Friedman is a Professor at the Rockefeller University in New York City and Director of the university's Starr Center for Human Genetics. Lately, he has taken his search for fat genes to Kosrae, a small island in the Pacific where obesity is rampant. By analyzing DNA collected from all the adults on the island, Dr. Friedman hopes to learn more about why some people are overweight while others are lean.
Topic: Becoming a Research Scientist
Jeff Friedman: Well, actually as a kid, once I concluded I would never be a professional athlete I really wanted to be a veterinarian but in the world I grew up in the highest form of human endeavor was to be a doctor. My father was a radiologist and so there was always this push to be a doctor and so I entered a six-year medical program when I finished high school and finished my training pretty young, and it was only at the point at which I finished my medical training that I began to question whether or not that was what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life. I didn’t really know frankly what I was going to do other than I just didn’t see medical practice for the next 30, 40 years as being where I was headed. One of my professors where I went to medical school thought I might like research and referred me to a colleague of his at Rockefeller University where I now work so I visited her lab, spent a year and decided I really liked it and have stuck with it. A friend of mine once referred to me as the accidental scientist, which was applied shortly after Anne Tyler wrote The Accidental Tourist.