Victorian diabetes researcher Professor Mark Febbraio has won a top science award, the Eureka Prize for Scientific Research, for his work on a ‘designer cytokine’ that may become a treatment for type 2 diabetes.
Announced on 24 November as part of an online awards ceremony due to COVID-19 restrictions, the annual Eureka Awards are national science awards that honour excellence in research and innovation, leadership, science engagement, and school science.
Professor Mark Febbraio from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) was honoured for his work on a novel compound called IC7FC that improves glucose metabolism and prevents weight gain.
His team have been investigating gp130 receptor cytokines IL-6 and ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF), which can improve obesity and insulin resistance. However, to overcome tolerability issues with these agents, they engineered a novel gp130 ligand, named IC7Fc, creating a new cytokine with CNTF-like, but IL-6R- dependent signalling.
Professor Febbraio showed that IC7Fc significantly improves glucose tolerance and hyperglycaemia and prevents weight gain and liver steatosis in animal studies
The team also showed that IC7Fc improves glucose tolerance and is safe in non-human primates, with none of the pro-inflammatory or immunogenicity problems with IL-6 or CNTF.
He believes the compound could be potentially harnessed as a drug therapy to treat diabetes, obesity and the loss of muscle mass.
“I’m incredibly grateful to the Eureka Prizes team for recognising the importance of our research here at MIPS. Diabetes impacts more than 1.5 million Australians and costs the health care system over $6 billion each year. We know that a drug for diabetes could be of great health significance for so many people and we hope to move towards clinical trials in the future,” he said.
Professor Febbraio was also recently the winner of the Society of Endocrinology’s International Medal in recognition of scientific excellence.