Drucker, Habener Receive 2021 Canada Gairdner International Award

Daniel J. Drucker, MD

Endocrine Society members Daniel J. Drucker, MD, and Joel Habener, MD, have been recognized with the 2021 Canada Gairdner International Award for their research on glucagon-like peptides that has led to major advances in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and intestinal disorders.

Drucker, editor-in-chief of Endocrine Reviews, is a professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto, and senior scientist at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Sinai Health, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Habener, a 2018 Endocrine Society Outstanding Mentor Laureate

Joel F. Habener, MA, MD

Award recipient, is a professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, and director, Laboratory of Molecular Endocrinology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Ma. They share the award with Jens Juul Holst, MD, DMSc, professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences and group leader, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, and serves on the faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.

The independent and collaborative work of Drucker, Habener, and Holst enhanced the understanding of how gastrointestinal organs function and created new classes of drugs for the treatment of metabolic disorders, specifically type 2 diabetes, obesity and short bowel syndrome.

These three scientists are awarded for a combined body of work with significant impact on the field of diabetes and short bowel syndrome but are also recognized for their individual discoveries that underpin the translational results.

They discovered hormones called glucagon-like peptides (GLP-1 and -2) which control the levels of insulin and glucagon which work together to maintain healthy sugar levels. They elucidated their biology and physiological function and played critical roles in the design and testing of therapies informed by their initial and subsequent discoveries

These three scientists are awarded for a combined body of work with significant impact on the field of diabetes and short bowel syndrome but are also recognized for their individual discoveries that underpin the translational results.

In the 1970s, Habener used pancreatic cells from anglerfish to demonstrate that glucagon and somatostatin were encoded in the pancreatic cells as larger, precursor hormones. During additional mammal studies he discovered two new hormones related to glucagon which are known as GLP-1 and GLP-2.

Drucker, who served as a fellow in Habener’s lab in the 1980s, outlined the processing of proglucagon and the biology of GLP-1 action on insulin-producing cells, which led to the development of multiple types of treatments for type 2 diabetes. Together with Holst, working mostly in people, they showed that when food is ingested, GLP-1 is released into the bloodstream from cells in the gut increasing insulin release and suppressing glucagon.

Work from their labs and others led to the development of novel therapeutics to control insulin secretion in type 2 diabetes based on understanding the action of GLP1 and its metabolism by the enzyme, DPP4, leading directly to the development of the DPP-4 inhibitors for diabetes therapy.

Drucker discovered the first actions of GLP-2 as a gut growth factor and both Drucker and Holst extensively characterized its mechanisms of action in animals and humans. The first GLP-2 analogue (teduglutide) was approved for clinical use in the treatment of short bowel syndrome in 2012.

Together, Drucker, Habener, and Holst made major contributions to endocrinology and changed the treatment of metabolic and gastrointestinal diseases. Their work is both basic and translational, a true example of bench to bedside research.

GLP-1 therapies have been effective in the treatment of type 2 diabetes and more recently, as a treatment of obesity to reduce appetite. Drucker and Holst’s research on the function of GLP-2 and its role as an intestinal growth factor helped develop treatments for short bowel disease, decreasing the need for feeding tubes to provide nutrition in children and adults with the condition.

Together, Drucker, Habener, and Holst made major contributions to endocrinology and changed the treatment of metabolic and gastrointestinal diseases. Their work is both basic and translational, a true example of bench to bedside research.

To date, over 100 million people with type 2 diabetes have been treated with a GLP-1 analogue or a DPP-4 inhibitor.

The Canada Gairdner Awards celebrate the world’s best biomedical and global health researchers through seven annual awards. Since the Gairdner Foundation’s launch in 1957, it has bestowed over 400 awards on laureates from over 40 countries, 95 of whom have gone on to receive Nobel Prizes. For more information, go to: www.gairdner.org.

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