The creators of the Golden Goose Award announced today that the next award will go to Dr. John Eng, a medical researcher and practicing physician whose study of the extremely poisonous venom produced by the Gila monster led to a drug that protects millions of diabetics from such complications as blindness, kidney failure, and nerve damage.
The Golden Goose Award was created in 2012 to celebrate researchers whose seemingly odd or obscure federally funded research turned out to have a significant, positive impact on society. Dr. Eng will receive the award at the second annual Golden Goose Awards ceremony in Washington, DC this fall, along with the late Wallace Coulter, who was named a Golden Goose awardee earlier this year, and other winners to be named in the coming weeks.
Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN) first proposed the Golden Goose Award, and it was created by a coalition of organizations listed below. Like the bipartisan group of Members of Congress who support the Golden Goose Award, the founding organizations believe that federally funded basic scientific research is the cornerstone of American innovation and essential to our economic growth, health, global competitiveness, and national security. Award recipients are selected by a panel of respected scientists and university research leaders.
Medicine from monsters and venom may sound like a science-fiction novel, but it's a real-life breakthrough, said Rep. Cooper. Dr. Eng's research shows that we can't abandon science funding only because we don't know where it might lead. Just ask millions of diabetics whose lives have been improved by his discovery.
Dr. Eng's research demonstrates the necessity of federally supported basic research, said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), another congressional supporter of the Golden Goose Award. In 1992, there was no way of knowing that Gila monster venom contained a compound that would one day change the lives of millions of diabetics. We owe it to future generations to lay the groundwork now for tomorrow's breakthroughs.
Dr. Eng began his career as a physician and researcher at the Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, working under Nobel Prize recipient Dr. Rosalyn S. Yalow. He treated many diabetic patients, and knew that maintaining normal glucose levels in diabetics is key to reducing their chances of suffering such complications as blindness, nerve damage, and kidney failure.
According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2011 nearly 26 million people in the U.S. had diabetes. It is the leading cause of kidney failure, and the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults aged 20-74.
Supported by funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Eng sought to build on earlier research by other scientists supported by the National Institutes of Health, who had found that the venom of some animals had an impact on the human pancreas.
Focusing on the poisonous venom of the Gila monster, a lizard indigenous to the southwestern U.S., Dr. Eng discovered in 1992 a new compound that he named Exendin-4. The compound stimulates insulin-producing cells in the pancreas to produce more insulin when glucose levels are high. The compound keeps the body's blood sugar levels at a steady, normal level while minimizing, compared to an insulin shot, the risk of levels going too low.
To gain notice for his discovery, Dr. Eng set up a booth at the American Diabetes Association annual meeting, where he caught the attention of a small biotechnology company, Amylin Pharmaceuticals.
The new drug developed by that company, exenatide, marketed as Byetta, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2005, and has proved to be a long-acting treatment that helps diabetics manage their chronic condition. It has been prescribed to millions of people suffering from diabetes to help them to manage their blood sugar levels and to feel less hungry and eat less.