Two favorites for a Nobel Prize this year have picked up the 2010 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award—the so-called "American Nobel"—an honor that often precedes the winning of an actual Nobel.

Douglas Coleman, of Jackson Laboratory, and Jeffrey Friedman, of Rockefeller University, discovered the hormone leptin, which plays an important role in the regulation of metabolism and appetite. This finding "firmly establishes the tie between obesity and genetics," according to a statement by the Lasker Foundation. Coleman and Friedman were both named by Thompson Reuters on September 20 as one of three likely teams to receive the 2010 Nobel in physiology or medicine.

Napoleone Ferrara, of Genetech, will receive the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for uncovering Vascular Endothelia Growth Factor (VEGF) and putting it to work to help treat wet age-related macular degeneration.

And David Weatherall, a molecular geneticist and professor emeritus at the University of Oxford, was named for the Lasker-Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science, after 50 years in the field. He helped to discover the thalassemias, a group of blood disorders with a biological basis.

Last year's winners of the Lasker Award for basic medical research, University of Cambridge's John Gurdon and Kyoto University's Shinya Yamanaka (for their work creating induced pluripotent stem cells) have not yet won Nobels, but Yamanaka is also on this year's Thompson Reuter's shortlist.

The Lasker prizes will be awarded October 1 in New York City, just three days before the first Nobel announcement is made.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto/lucato