Dr. Unger's lab is best known for its studies of islet physiology, in particular the elucidation of the roles of insulin and glucagon in the regulation of normal blood glucose homeostasis and in the pathogenesis of diabetes, and the establishment of glucagon as a hormone. It also established the "enteroinsular axis", and contributed to the physiology of islet somatostatin and the regulation of GLUT-2 expression in beta-cells. Recently his lab has introduced the concept of "lipotoxicity", the process by which overaccumulation of lipids in obesity in nonadipose tissues, for example, the pancreatic islets, leads to diabetes and, in other organs, to the metabolic syndrome. His group has demonstrated the role of leptin action in preventing fat-induced islet failure and metabolic syndrome. Dr. Unger has received the Banting Medal of the American Diabetes Association, the Rumbaugh Award of the Juvenile Diabetes Association, the Claude Bernard Medal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, and the Koch Award of the Endocrine Society. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was Director of the Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research from 1986 until 2007. He is Professor of Internal Medicine and holds the Touchstone/West Distinguished Chair in Diabetes Research.


Yale University (1944)
Medical School
Columbia University Central of (1947)

Research Interest

  • Diabetes
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Obesity


Featured Publications LegendFeatured Publications

Combined leptin actions on adipose tissue and hypothalamus are required to deplete adipocyte fat in lean rats: Implications for obesity treatment.
Park BH, Wang MY, Lee Y, Yu X, Ravazzola M, Orci L, Unger RH Journal of Biological Chemistry December 2006 281 (52) 40283-91
Adiposity of the heart, revisited.
McGavock JM, Victor RG, Unger RH, Szczepaniak LS Annal of Internal Medicine April 2006 144(7) 517-524
Movin’ on up: Adipocytes become regulators of nutrient homeostasis.
Unger RH, Elmquist JK Cell Metabolism March 2006 3(3) 147-148
Fat storage in adipocytes requires inactivation of leptin’s paracrine activity: Implications for treatment of human obesity.
Wang MY, Orci L, Ravazzola M, Unger RH PNAS December 2005 102(50) 18011-6
The Physiology of Cellular Liporegulation
Unger RH Annual Review of Physiology 2003 65 333-347

Honors & Awards

  • National Academy of Sciences
  • Fred Conrad Koch Award
    The Endocrine Society (1983)
  • Claude Bernard Memorial Medal and Lectureship
    European Association for the Study of Diabetes (1980)
  • Banting Medal and Memorial Lectureship
    Awarded by the American Diabetes Association for scientific achievement (1975)
  • Lilly Award of the American Diabetes Association
    For outstanding research in the field of diabetes in North America (1964)

Professional Associations/Affiliations

  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • American College of Physicians
  • American Diabetes Association
  • American Medical Association
  • National Academy of Sciences