Diabetes leader DeFronzo receives $250,000 Hamm Prize

diabetes in men
Ralph DeFronzo, M.D.
Ralph DeFronzo, M.D.

Ralph DeFronzo, M.D., professor of medicine and chief of diabetes in the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, has been selected to receive the 2017 Harold Hamm International Prize for Biomedical Research in Diabetes, which includes $250,000.

Dr. DeFronzo is the author of 750 publications and has contributed innovative ideas defining the root causes of type 2 diabetes mellitus. He joined the faculty of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio in 1988.

His work has resulted in novel ideas about how diabetes develops and progresses, including the concept of insulin resistance. Dr. DeFronzo also is leading the development and testing of new diabetes therapies.

Metformin, a frontline drug in treatment of type 2 diabetes, had been used in Europe before being tested in this country. Dr. DeFronzo did the entire drug development of metformin in the U.S. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1995.

More recently, Dr. DeFronzo discovered a new approach to diabetes treatment through inhibition of sodium glucose transporter-2 (SGLT-2). This discovery led to the development and approval of several widely used drugs for diabetes, including dapagliflozin, empagliflozin and canagliflozin.

SGLT2 is a protein in humans that facilitates glucose reabsorption in the kidney. Blocking it results in an increase in the amount of glucose coming out in the urine.

Announced in 2012, the Hamm Prize was established to recognize and promote lasting achievements in diabetes research focused on progress toward a cure. The $250,000 prize, the largest of its kind in the world, is named for Harold Hamm, chairman and chief executive office of Continental Resources Inc., and who provided for an endowment to fund the prize in perpetuity.

Dr. DeFronzo is the third recipient of the Hamm Prize, which is awarded by a jury of five international leaders in the field of diabetes research.

Vivian A. Fonseca, M.D., from Tulane University, and Aaron I. Vinik, M.R., Ph.D., FCP, MACP, FACE, from the Strelitz Diabetes Center at Eastern Virginia Medical School, nominated Dr. DeFronzo for the prize.

“His work not only encompasses clinical research but also effective delivery of care,” Dr. Fonseca said.  “To my mind very few people in the world have done as much for so many different aspects of diabetes research, clinical care and teaching.”

“Dr. DeFronzo has to be one of the most singular outstanding stars in the diabetes world,” Dr. Vinik said. “He is absolutely unique in being able to identify the contributions of almost every organ in the body to the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes.”

The Hamm Prize is awarded and administered by the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center at the University of Oklahoma for distinguished and lasting achievement in the field of diabetes research. The prize is awarded in alternate years.

The Hamm Prize will officially be conferred upon Dr. DeFronzo on Oct. 16 in Oklahoma City.

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