Steven Teitelbaum, MD, the Wilma and Roswell Messing Professor of Pathology and Immunology 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.
Teitelbaum, who is also a professor of medicine in the Division of Bone & Mineral Diseases, is being honored for advancing understanding of the balance between the cells that build up bone – the osteoblasts – and those that break it down – the osteoclasts. In particular, he studies what happens when osteoclasts are the more active of the two. His findings have underpinned advances in the understanding and treatment of bone diseases.
He shares the prize with Bjorn Reino Olsen, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, who also studies bone biology.
Osteoclasts have been the focus of Teitelbaum’s most influential work. His investigations into such cells led to the development of therapies for bone-related conditions such as osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Among other findings, Teitelbaum clarified how osteoclasts degrade bone, and he collaborated with pharmaceutical companies to design a compound to specifically inhibit the process – work that one day could lead to treatments for osteoporosis. Other work led to a new understanding of how a subtype of osteoporosis known as glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis develops, and eventually a change in standard treatment away from drugs that simply restrain bone breakdown to those that also promote building up the bone. Teitelbaum also studied how inflammation affects osteoclasts’ capacity to resorb bone. In animal studies, he showed that blocking a protein called RANKL that activates cells to dismantle bone could treat destructive joint conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Recently, his interests have expanded to include the interactions between bone, fat and energy metabolism. People with obesity are vulnerable to bone fractures. Teitelbaum discovered that fat cells release compounds that increase production of bone, a process he sums up as “fat talks to bone.” He also conducted a series of studies that helped explain why people with Type 2 diabetes – a disease strongly linked to obesity – tend to get bone fractures if they are treated with a class of drugs called glitazones. He has shown that a different family of drugs could effectively treat Type 2 diabetes without the risk of fractures.
Teitelbaum obtained his bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in New York City and his medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine in 1964, before completing his clinical training at the School of Medicine and New York University. He returned to Washington University in 1968 as a clinical fellow in pathology and joined the faculty in 1969. Teitelbaum served as chair of the Department of Pathology of Jewish Hospital from 1987 to 1996.
Among his many honors and awards are the William F. Neuman Award from the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, the Ann Doner Vaughan Kappa Delta Award from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the Second Century Award, and the Carl and Gerty Cori Faculty Achievement Award from Washington University, and the Peter H. Raven Lifetime Achievement Award from Academy of Science-St. Louis. He has served as president of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research and of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology.