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Award recognizes researcher who discovered diabetes medicine in Gila monster venom

by Aug. 1, 2013, 11:38 AM

Gila monster
Gila monster (Jeff Servoss)

Many of the 26 million people in the United States who have diabetes are benefiting from the fact that 30 years ago John Eng took an interest in the Gila monster: The physician and researcher at the Veterans Administration discovered that the poisonous venom of this pebbly-skinned denizen of the southwestern United States can help prevent some of diabetes’ most severe complications.

On July 30, creators of the Golden Goose Awards announced that Eng will be their next award winner. 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.

John Eng
John Eng (University of California-San Diego)

The award was first proposed by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and it was created by a coalition of organizations. Vanderbilt is one of its sponsors. The award’s backers believe that federally funded basic scientific research is the cornerstone of American innovation and essential to the nation’s 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 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.”

Eng will receive the award at the second annual Golden Goose Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., 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. Eng is the 10th Golden Goose awardee.