May 23, 2018
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Former Jackson Lab scientist who won international prizes dies

Photo courtesy of Jackson Laboratory
Photo courtesy of Jackson Laboratory
Douglas Coleman, Ph.D. (left), emeritus professor of The Jackson Laboratory, photographed in 1995 at The Jackson Laboratory.
By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

LAMOINE, Maine — A former scientist at The Jackson Laboratory who received numerous accolades for his research into the causes of obesity has passed away.

Douglas Coleman died April 16 at his home in Lamoine, according to a prepared statement released by the Bar Harbor-based biomedical research laboratory. He was 82 years old.

A native of Ontario, Canada, Coleman was highly regarded for research he conducted at the lab in the 1960s and 1970s that led him to conclude that mice had a blood-borne factor that controls appetite and weight gain. When the unidentified factor was absent or didn’t function properly, it could lead to obesity and diabetes in some mice.

A profile of Coleman published in the Bangor Daily News in 2009 indicated that “Coleman’s research provided some of the earliest evidence that obesity was not just about willpower and eating habits but also involved chemical and genetic factors, thus setting the stage for modern scientific inquiry into the increasingly prevalent condition.”

Some 20 years later, Coleman’s research took on even greater significance when another research scientist tracked down the factor that Coleman had accurately predicted. Jeffrey Friedman, of Rockefeller University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, identified (and named) the hormone leptin as a substance in the blood that regulates food intake and body weight.

The two men shared many prizes for their combined scientific accomplishments. In 2009 they were jointly awarded the Shaw Prize in Life Sciences and Medicine, and the following year they shared a Lasker Award. In 2013, they received two more honors as recipients of the Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine and of the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine.

“Doug was a scientist’s scientist and a good friend,” Friedman wrote in the lab statement. “His research in the 1970s combined genetics and physiology in a creative and illuminating way and led him to hypothesize that body weight was controlled by a hormonal system.”

Coleman won other awards earlier in his career. In 1977, he received the Claude Bernard Medal by the European Diabetes Federation. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1998, won the 1999 McMaster University Distinguished Alumni Award, and won the 2005 Gairdner Foundation International Award, according to Jackson Lab officials.

Coleman worked at the lab from 1958 until he retired in 1991, serving as assistant director of research from 1968 to 1970 and as interim director in 1975-76.

Edison Liu, president and CEO of Jackson Lab, wrote in the statement that Coleman left an “indelible and profoundly beneficial mark” on the lab.

“Doug was a unique combination of brilliant, honest, funny and modest, and he was unbeatable company,” Liu said. “He leaves an inspiring legacy at the lab and a giant void in our hearts.”

More information on Coleman’s career can be found online at the lab’s website,


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