The Harold Hamm Diabetes Center's International Prize for Biomedical Research in diabetes announced on Thursday that the University of Oklahoma in the US is being called for the Nobel Prize for diabetes. And it's not just the $250,000 prize money, substantial though it is, which is exciting scientists.
This prize is expected to spur global research to do the unthinkable: find a cure for diabetes, a disorder that affects 366 million people worldwide, 62.4 million of them in India.
There's reason for optimism. Biomedical breakthroughs in the past few years have added to better understanding of the genesis and progression of diabetes, going as far back as studying the genetic triggers of diabetes in the womb that could potentially be treated in the future to prevent diabetes.
"We have wonderful new tools today to get to the problem. Better understanding of cell behaviour, cell transcription factors, genetics... all these will help us find a cure," said Dr Timothy Lyons, head of scientific research and director, HHDC.
The biennial prize is for scientific breakthroughs in the field of diabetes and is both for insulin-dependent type-1 that typically affects young people, and type-2, which usually affects adults with unhealthy lifestyles – little or no activity, high calorie-low fibre food, obesity and/or stress – but is increasingly being diagnosed in children.
Employees of for-profit pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies cannot apply.
"With its special emphasis on progress towards cure, the award will add momentum to make a meaningful impact on the diabetes health crisis, which has a devastating impact on young and old alike," says David L Boren, president University of Oklahoma, on the eve of the American Diabetes Association's 72nd Scientific Sessions.
A former Oklahoma governor and US senator, he was the longest-serving chairman of the US senate select committee on intelligence.
"Innovation and technology spur solutions in every sector. Just as innovations in oil exploration like precision horizontal drilling - have made the US a world leader in new oil discovery, tapping the imagination of all the young scientist of the world can give the world a cure for diabetes. And we will find it," said Harold Hamm, chief executive of Continental Resources, and the energy policy advisor to Mitt Romney.
Oil billionaire Hamm, whose foundation is giving the prize money, was diagnosed with diabetes a decade ago.
"When I was told I had diabetes, I thought I'll get the best cure in the world. But I found there were not enough places to go to," says Hamm, who has donated $30.5 million to the Oklahoma Diabetes Centre since 2006.
Whether the prize throws up a penicillin-like wonder drug for diabetes remains to be seen, but what it has already done is accelerate progress in research to find a cure.
And till that happens, established treatment using blood sugar-regulating drugs and monitored insulin shots, along with a healthy diet, weight management and daily exercise, remain the only option for the estimated 8% – and growing – of the world's population living with diabetes.
(Visit HaroldHammPrize.org for details about the award)