BOSTON – (May 15, 2014) – Aaron M. Cypess, M.D., Ph.D., MMSc, Assistant Investigator in the Section on Integrative Physiology & Metabolism, Staff Physician at Joslin Diabetes Center and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, has received the 2014 Armen H. Tashjian Jr. Award for Excellence in Endocrine Research.

The award is presented annually by the Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) to recognize young Harvard-affiliated faculty members and post-doctoral scholars who are pursuing novel areas of discovery in endocrine and related areas of research. Tashjian was a professor of toxicology, emeritus, in the Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases at HSPH, where he led the toxicology program for nearly three decades.

“I am honored and thankful to receive the Armen H. Tashjian Jr. Award,” commented Dr. Cypess. “This award fits right in with Joslin’s dedication to diabetes research. We are an institution committed to research and this is an affirmation of Joslin’s focus."

The Armen H. Tashjian Jr. Award was presented to Dr. Cypess at a reception on Friday, May 2, at a Harvard School of Public Health program, where he delivered the lecture “Determining the Endocrine Roles of a New Organ, Human Brown Adipose Tissue.” Dr. Cypess’ lecture on brown adipose tissue, also known as brown fat, linked the information that he and his colleagues at Joslin have discovered about brown fat with the themes and interests of Dr. Tashjian.

“Dr. Tashijan had many interests and was an expert in many areas,” explained Dr. Cypess. “He could do basic science, but he also had significant achievements in direct practical clinical applications, which is something I strive for as well.”

In 2009, Dr. Cypess and colleagues discovered that brown fat is a functional organ in adult humans, which was a monumental finding because prior to this, many people doubted the existence of brown fat.

“Dr. Cypess embodies the ideals of a medical scientist, which reflects perfectly the career of Dr. Tashjian,” said George King, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer and Senior Vice President at Joslin. “Dr. Cypess’s re-discovery of the importance of brown fat in adults utilized his training in medicine and basic sciences to open the field of brown fat, and this has become one of the most popular areas of medical research.”

As a renowned investigator of brown fat, Dr. Cypess concentrates on brown fat as it relates to metabolism in an effort to better understand whether brown fat can contribute to the treatment of obesity. This includes the study of white adipose tissue or white fat, skeletal muscle and the liver – the three main organs involved in controlling glucose and fat metabolism. Dr. Cypess is particularly interested in understanding how these organs communicate with and regulate one another. 

Currently, Dr. Cypess and his team are studying drugs that have promise for activating brown and white fat, which can potentially be used to combat type 2 diabetes, obesity and other metabolic diseases.

“We are looking for the kinds of hormones that are released by human brown fat. We assume that they are there, but nobody has found any yet,” said Dr. Cypess. “These hormones are essential to understanding how the tissue functions and how we may use it someday to treat obesity and metabolic disease.”