Mathieu Ferron receives the Fuller Albright Award from the ASBMR

Mathieu Ferron receives the Fuller Albright Award from the ASBMR

Mathieu Ferron, Director of the Molecular Physiology Research Unit at the IRCM, Associate Professor-Researcher at the University of Montreal (UdeM) and Assistant Professor at McGill University, recently received the prestigious Fuller Albright Award from the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR) for his excellent research work.

The Fuller Albright Award is granted to an ASBMR member under the age of 45, in recognition of meritorious scientific achievement in skeletal and bone research.

Mathieu Ferron tells us about it:

Mathieu, you are the second Canadian researcher and the first at the Université de Montréal to receive this prestigious award. How does this affect you? 
At first I was surprised because the ASBMR is a very large society with over 4000 members, and so I did not expect to be selected! That being said, I am very proud to be the second Canadian and the first UdeM researcher to receive this award, especially since I did my doctorate in molecular biology here at UdeM, within the laboratory of Dr. Jean Vacher, located at the IRCM.

Tell us about the journey that brought you here.
During my PhD, my project focused on osteoclasts, cells specializing in the destruction and the replacement of bone. That's when I "fell in love" with bones, so to speak. Subsequently, I went to New York to do a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Gérard Karsenty who was already a world leader in the field of bone at the time. It is in his team that I had the chance to work on osteocalcin for the first time. I consider Drs. Vacher and Karsenty to be my two scientific mentors: they taught me almost everything, and I will always be grateful to them for believing in my potential!

What research work is behind this recognition? 
While I was pursuing my postdoctoral fellowship in Dr. Gérard Karsenty's team, we made a rather surprising discovery: our results suggested that the skeleton produces a hormone involved in the control of glucose metabolism. At the time, many were skeptical that bone could be an endocrine organ. But we persevered in our work until we proved that osteocalcin was indeed a hormone that controls the production of insulin by the pancreas. My work has also focused on the role that insulin plays in bone. Back in Montreal, I established my own lab where I continued to study osteocalcin with my team. We have discovered several new mechanisms controlling its production and action, in addition to developing methods to measure its concentration in human blood. Our work on osteocalcin has opened up a whole new field of research, and many researchers around the world are now interested in this hormone and how it works. In just a few years, each of our publications on the subject has been cited over 1000 times, which is indicative of the interest raised by these discoveries. Our work has brought new knowledge that sheds more light on human metabolism, and opens the way to new therapeutic avenues, especially for certain medical conditions such as diabetes, memory loss or depression, to name but a few. The potential is enormous!

What does such recognition represent? 
Like Dr. Fuller Albright, whose memory is honoured with this award, I firmly believe in the importance of both clinical and basic research for the advancement of modern medicine. I would also like to acknowledge the important contribution of the other members of my team without whom we could not have made these discoveries, particularly of Julie Lacombe and Omar Al Rifai, who both did a wonderful job. Also, some of the work on osteocalcin was carried out in collaboration with my colleagues from the IRCM, Nabil Seidah and Rémi Rabasa-Lhoret. This type of recognition reminds us that good research often requires a village: great mentors, talented students, brilliant collaborators, and professionals who work behind the scenes.

What advice would you have for young researchers who follow in your footsteps? 
When I was a student, I went through a few moments of discouragement especially when my project seemed to be going nowhere, or when I encountered technical difficulties. But I quickly understood that the important thing in research is to persevere, and above all, to use your brainpower. It is true that in order to have a career in research, you have to be prepared to work hard and go through long academic studies. But, at the end of the day, for someone who is truly passionate about science, it is well worth it: he or she will have the unique chance to discover, observe and understand phenomena that no other person has ever described. In a certain way, a researcher is at the forefront of science, and it can be truly fascinating on a daily basis!

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