Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, director of the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has been awarded the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine.
The annual prize, awarded by the King Faisal Foundation in Saudi Arabia, recognizes scientists whose research has major benefits to humanity.
Gordon is being honored for his discovery linking nutritional health to the inner workings of the tens of trillions of microbes that live in the gut. Gordon, the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor, also directs the Center for Gut Microbiome and Nutrition Research at Washington University.
Gordon’s research focuses on how the community of microbes in the gut influences overall gut function and shapes various aspects of human physiology, metabolism and nutritional status. Studies in his laboratory have opened an entire new field of research focusing on the gut microbiome.
Much of what is known about the workings of the gut microbiome have come from Gordon’s seminal studies in mice that have been raised under sterile conditions and then colonized with human gut microbes and fed human diets. Over the past decade, Gordon and the students in his laboratory have uncovered a compelling causal link between the gut microbiome and obesity as well as the metabolic abnormalities associated with being overweight.
More recently, his studies have implicated a dysfunctional, immature gut microbiome as an underlying cause of childhood undernutrition. This work points to the possibility of developing more effective treatments for the condition using beneficial microbes – or next-generation probiotics – which could be given to undernourished children along with therapeutic foods.
The community of microbes in the gut acts like an organ, processing foods and synthesizing vitamins that our human cells can’t manage on their own. Gordon’s work emphasizes that the development of this microbial organ is critical for healthy growth during childhood. His studies also highlight that the nutritional value and health effects of food vary among people, based on differences in the makeup of their gut microbial communities.
Work in Gordon’s laboratory indicates that next-generation nutritious foods should be designed from the inside out, based on the way they interact with the gut communities of people of different ages, states of health, lifestyles and cultural traditions. This revelation has the potential to alter food production methods and lead to dietary recommendations that take the gut microbiome into consideration.
Gordon earned his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and his medical degree from the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine. He did his residency training in internal medicine and his clinical fellowship in gastroenterology at Barnes Hospital, the academic hospital partner of Washington University School of Medicine. Gordon was a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Biochemistry at the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Gordon joined the Washington University faculty in 1981 and has held various positions including Head of the Department of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology (now Developmental Biology). In 2004, he was named the founding director of the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology. During his career, Gordon has mentored 59 PhD and MD/PhD students and 63 postdoctoral fellows in his laboratory, many of whom have gone on to become leaders in the field of human microbiome research.
A member of the National Academy of Sciences and its Institute of Medicine, Gordon’s other honors include the 2013 Robert Koch Award, which is widely regarded as the leading international prize in microbiology, the 2013 National Academy of Sciences’ Selman A. Waksman Award, the 2014 Passano Foundation’s Laureate Award and the 2014 Dickson Prize in Medicine. He also is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.