Gordon receives Kober Medal

Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, has been awarded the George M. Kober Medal from the Association of American Physicians in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the field of gut microbiome research. Gordon, director of the Edison Family Center for Genome Sciences & Systems Biology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is considered to be the father of the field. His contributions have spanned basic science in the lab to clinical trials in Bangladesh showing that the gut microbiome is key to childhood nutrition, orchestrating healthy growth and development in the earliest years of life.

The Kober Medal is the highest honor given by the Association of American Physicians. The award is given annually to a member judged to have had an enormous impact on biomedicine through their scientific discoveries and the training of young scientists who themselves have gone on to make major research contributions. Gordon is being honored April 9 during a virtual ceremony.

Past recipients of the Kober Medal include 13 Nobel laureates and many world-renown physician-scientists and clinician-scientists, including Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Awarded annually since 1929, its recipients have included several members of the School of Medicine, including Herbert Gasser, MD, former head of the Department of Pharmacology and the 1944 Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology; W. Barry Wood, MD, former head of the Department of Medicine whose interest in interactions between disease-causing bacteria and immune cells led to the creation of the Department’s Division of Infectious Diseases; David Kipnis, MD, who led the Department of Medicine for two decades and served as an important mentor to several generations of physician-scientists, including Gordon; and most recently Stuart Kornfeld, MD, the David C. and Betty Farrell Professor of Medicine.

“This award has had an extraordinary history of recipients, and this wonderful honor is testimony to the inspiring, dedicated and impactful efforts of the magnificent group of students, postdoctoral fellows and colleagues who I have been so fortunate to work with and learn from over the years,” said Gordon, also the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor.

Gordon is internationally known for his interdisciplinary studies of how the microbes that live in the gut assemble into complex communities following birth and how they function to affect health at various stages of life. His work has focused on two global health challenges — obesity and its associated metabolic abnormalities in adults, and malnutrition in infants and children.

Childhood malnutrition is the leading cause of death in those under five years of age. Gordon and his group have identified key microbes in the developing intestines of infants and children that promote healthy growth. Working with the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh, they went on to discover a therapeutic food that repairs defective microbial community development in children with malnutrition, and in doing so restore their growth. A recent clinical trial of young, malnourished children in Bangladesh shows that the new therapeutic food is better than standard therapy in supporting the children’s growth. Results from the research, led by Gordon and his laboratory, were published online April 7 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

“This work is providing a new and more transcendent view of human development — one where the state of health of the developing microbiome is inexorably linked to many facets of the healthy development of our infants and children,” Gordon said. “Current human microbiome research is addressing questions originally posed by microbiologists more than a century ago. And it is doing so with new and rapidly expanding sets of tools. Its interdisciplinary nature provides an opportunity to forge new alliances, spawn new fields and advance the ways we can address a number of pressing and vexing health challenges, including those related to our nutritional state.”

Said David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine, and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor: “Jeffrey Gordon has revolutionized our ability to study the gut microbiome, and his work has transformed and indelibly changed the field of nutritional sciences by showing that it is possible to design foods that promote health on the basis of an individual’s microbiome. His discoveries have profound implications for the health of the public on a global scale.”

Gordon, who has spent his entire career at Washington University, has mentored 140 doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. Many have gone on to become leaders in gut microbiome research and related fields.

Gordon has received a number of other awards in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to science and medicine, including the British Royal Society’s Copley Medal, the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, the Keio Medical Science Prize and the BBVA Foundation’s Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biology and Biomedicine. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

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