Prestigious Swedish Medical University Honors UTSW Professor

A UT Southwestern Medical Center professor who discovered a pancreatic hormone that spikes blood sugar levels has received a prestigious award from the Swedish medical university that houses the Nobel Assembly.

Dr. Roger Unger, a professor of internal medicine, won the 2014 Rolf Luft Award, which is given each year by the Swedish Karolinska Intitutet. Unger found that the hormone glucagon has the opposite effect of insulin, increasing blood sugar levels.

“This award recognizes Dr. Unger’s outstanding contributions to diabetes research over decades,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern, in a statement. “He was not only at the forefront of the identification of glucagon as a key hormone that balances insulin regulation of blood sugar, but almost singlehandedly rekindled the current widespread interest in the physiology of glucagon by establishing the hormone as a major drug target.”

Unger’s research goes back to 1959, when, while working at the Dallas VA hospital, he found that blood glucose spikes cannot happen without “abnormally high” levels of glucagon. By suppressing the hormone, the patient restores his or her glucose levels.

The Luft award is named for Dr. Rolf Luft, who served on the Nobel Assembly. He died in 2007.

“Rolf Luft was a good friend and, in addition, a hero to me,” said Dr. Unger in a statement. “To receive this honor in his memory is a wonderful reward.”

Unger is a Yale graduate who earned his medical degree from Columbia University.