U of T Scientist Honoured with Prestigious International Diabetes Prize

Apr 24, 2014
Author: 
Liam Mitchell

University of Toronto Professor Daniel Drucker is the recipient of the 2014 Banting Medal for Scientific Achievement Award from the American Diabetes Association. The prestigious honour, which is described by some as the Nobel Prize for diabetes research, is a rare honour for non-Americans. Drucker is only the second Canadian recipient of the award, which is named after the late U of T professor and co-discovered of insulin, Sir Frederick Banting. The other recipient was U of T’s Dr. Mladen Vranic, an internationally-respected researcher who was the last post-doctoral fellow of Dr. Charles Best, another co-discoverer of insulin.

Professor Daniel Drucker, Banting Medal Award Winner

“Daniel Drucker has made huge contributions to diabetes research. As a clinician-scientist, he has a sharp focus on translating discoveries into new therapies that help those battling diabetes,” says Professor Gary Lewis, Director of the Banting and Best Diabetes Centre at the University of Toronto.

Drucker is heralded as one of the fathers of incretin therapy, which is used to treat Type-2 diabetes. Incretins are a class of gut-derived hormones that regulates the production of insulin and food ingestion. Drucker’s lab has primarily focused on two types of incretin hormones: glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP), and the enzyme that controls their inactivation, dipeptidyl peptiddase-4 (DPP4). GLP-1 and GIP regulate the production of insulin. When food is ingested, these hormones act to enable the body to produce more insulin to help assimilate the ingested sugar (glucose). Diabetes can interfere with the ability to handle glucose, causing blood sugar to spike. By identifying the function of these hormones, science from the Drucker lab supported the development of two new classes of therapies now used to treat diabetes, GLP-1 receptor agonists and DPP4 inhibitors. 

Complementary studies from the Drucker lab identified the actions of a related hormone, GLP-2 which works to prepare the lining of the intestine to absorb nutrition and maintain the health and function of the intestine. For people whose intestines may have been damaged or resected, they are not able to absorb enough nutrition from food. As a result, they often have to be fed intravenously instead. Through a GLP-2-based drug therapy (teduglutide) developed by the Drucker lab, the function of the existing intestinal tract can be improved and extended, allowing patients to reduce or eliminate their need to receive their nutrition through an IV.

Drucker’s focus on developing drug therapies has been aided by productive relationships with many pharmaceutical companies — notably Merck, which gave a $1.5-million grant to the Lunenfeld Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mt. Sinai Hospital to fund training for graduate students and post-doctoral positions in Drucker’s lab, and Novo Nordisk, which donated $3-million to establish a chair in incretin biology at the Banting and Best Diabetes Centre.

“This is a great example of the collaborative relationships that can exist between universities and the pharmaceutical industry. Long after I’m gone, there will continue to be people at U of T who will be conducting research in incretin biology and diabetes,” states Drucker.

Drucker is an Endocrinologist and Professor of Medicine in U of T’s Division of Endocrinology, Department of Medicine. He is also a Senior Investigator at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital and is the former Director of U of T’s Banting and Best Diabetes Centre. He holds the Canada Research Chair in Regulatory Peptides and the inaugural Banting & Best Diabetes Centre-Novo Nordisk Chair in Incretin Biology.

“Certainly we all aim to do important work that has international impact. Receiving this award is external validation and reflects not just my hard work, but really honours the work of my lab and the dedication of our trainees and research associates who have contribute to our success,” says Drucker.

“Daniel Drucker’s translation work transforms scientific discoveries into new therapies for patients. His research into a family of hormones produced in the pancreas, gastrointestinal tract and brain has led to treatments not just for diabetes, but also obesity and intestinal disorders. He is an outstanding researcher and a wonderful example of the world-class faculty that call U of T Medicine home,” states Catharine Whiteside, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine.

“Toronto is a great place to conduct diabetes research,” says Drucker. “Every morning we wake up and think, ‘Banting and Best discovered insulin in 1922 – what am I going to do today?’”

Drucker will be recognized with this honor at the American Diabetes Association’s 74th Scientific Sessions, taking place June 13-17, 2014, at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

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