John Eng is the second 2013 recipient of a Golden Goose Award. He is recognized for his work in utilizing the venom of Gila monster lizards in order to develop a compound to mitigate some of the complications of diabetes. He joins the late Wallace Coulter in the award class of 2013.
Eng is a career physician and researcher for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, conducting research in endocrinology. He started his work studying the hormones of animals with Department funding. As part of his work he encountered studies by gastroenterologists (funded by the National Institutes of Health) on the effects of various snake and lizard venoms on the pancreas. Given the role the pancreas plays in regulating blood sugar and diabetes, Eng explored this research further. In the early 1990s he discovered a compound in the (venomous) saliva of Gila monsters that helps stimulate the production of insulin. A biotechnology company noticed the research and developed a compound that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2005.
(It would be interesting to note how strong or tenuous the connection is between Eng’s work and the gastroenterologists that he studied. In other words, had someone nominated those researchers, would I be writing about them instead of Eng?)
Eng has given back to the field, in part through an endowment at the University of California, San Diego, that supports fieldwork in biological research. That kind of fieldwork certainly informed his own research.
Eng and Coulter will be recognized as Golden Goose recipients at an awards event in late September. Whether more new awardees will join them is unclear.