Personal profile


Positions and Employment:

2002 - 2008               Founder & CSO, Orexigen Therapeutics Inc, California, USA

2007 - 2008               Associate Scientist, Division of Neuroscience, Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC), Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), Beaverton, Oregon, USA

2008 - present           Research Professor, Department of Physiology, School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Monash University, VIC, Australia

2009 - 2016          Director, Verva, Australia.

2009 - 2016          Founder & Director, Monash Obesity & Diabetes Institute, Victoria, Australia

2013 - 2017          Founder and Director, Pacific Discovery Services, Victoria, Australia

2014 - 2020                Founder and Chairman, ReverX, Victoria, Australia

2017 - present           Professor & Chairman, Department of Physiology, Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Monash University, Victoria Australia

2017 - 2022                Founder and Director, Integrated Physiology Services Pty Ltd, Victoria, Australia


Achievements and Awards:

2008             VESKI (Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge, and Innovation) Innovation Fellowship

2009             Science Ministers Prize for Australian Life Scientist of the Year.

                    High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia Austin Doyle Lectureship

                    WISDEM Lecture, University Hospital Coventry & Warwickshire, UK

2009 - 2014  Pfizer Australia Senior Research Fellowship  

2011             Fellow of The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (FTSE)

2014             Inaugural Jacques Miller Medal for Experimental Biomedicine, Australian Academy of Science

Research interests

Leptin may be key to controlling obesity

Obesity is arguably our most significant health epidemic. Almost two thirds of Australians are overweight or obese, and its associated diseases are a major concern for researchers. Professor Michael Cowley was the Director of the Monash Obesity and Diabetes Institute (MODI), which focuses on developing new therapies for obesity and diabetes. Michael is particularly interested in why leptin resistance is high in obese people. He's also looking at some of our most dangerous obesity-related diseases.

Leptin is a protein hormone that our fat cells secrete to regulate our appetite, metabolism and body weight. Earlier research has established leptin resistance in obese people, and Michael is now expanding on this finding.

"We have a project trying to understand how obesity causes leptin resistance and inflammation in the brain," Michael says. "Our early work described how leptin acted and from that, we worked out that the system became resistant and stopped responding. We published a paper with Tony Tiganis [a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology] recently. We established a new enzyme that disrupts leptin signalling. We've shown that if we block this enzyme, we can help restore body weight control."

"That work also described how other signals from the body, for example your stomach and intestines, tell the brain how much food is in your stomach and intestines. That map of the brain helped us develop a couple of therapeutics for the treatment of obesity. These were spun out into a company I started called Orexigen Therapeutics, and we've just finished phase three trials," he says.

Another of Michael's major projects looks at blood glucose regulation in a completely new way. It has also led to clinical trials of an exciting new therapeutic.

"I'm looking at the role of the melanocortin system in regulating blood glucose levels, either through changing outflow from the brain, changing neural tone from the brain, or changing the secretion of pituitary hormones. I'm the director of a company that has a diabetes therapy in phase two trials. It's a novel drug for increasing insulin sensitivity in type two diabetics. Type two diabetes is caused by becoming insensitive to insulin, so a drug that increases insulin sensitivity will treat it. Eventually type two diabetics need insulin replacement, and this drug is for before that. It's an oral drug."

Michael's obesity research also applies to two more very different diseases, highlighting its translational benefits.

"We have a project looking at how obesity causes heart disease and [we are] developing a new therapeutic to treat obesity-induced heart disease. We think we've discovered why obesity gives you heart disease and we've preliminarily shown that we can reverse obesity-induced heart disease risks without reducing weight," he says.

"We're also doing some work on what causes poly-cystic ovarian syndrome and how that disease is exacerbated by obesity. It's a dominant cause of infertility in young women."


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Research area keywords

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Neuroscience

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or