Three teams of scientists have received the 2021 Golden Goose Award, which recognizes federally funded research that may sound unusual but has ultimately produced great societal benefits.
The 10th annual award ceremony, held virtually on Sept. 22 and now available for viewing, honored the following researchers:
- Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman for “Making mRNA”
- Stephen Checkoway, Tadayoshi Kohno, Karl Koscher and Stefan Savage for “The Fast and the Curious”
- V. Craig Jordan for “The Secrets of SERMs”
“AAAS is proud to be a Golden Goose Award founding organization and to have the opportunity to share with all of you the stories of these amazing scientists, whose work has led to positive, life-changing impacts on all of our daily lives,” said Sudip Parikh, chief executive officer at AAAS.
While the award has been given out for the last decade, its roots date back much further. In the 1970s and 1980s, Sen. William Proxmire gave out “Golden Fleece Awards” to federal spending that he considered a waste of taxpayer dollars, often targeting basic scientific research that had not yet revealed its potential for societal impact.
Rep. Jim Cooper sought to recognize the federally funded research that Proxmire once denigrated, and in 2012, AAAS was part of a coalition of business, university and scientific organizations that launched the Golden Goose Award.
“The Golden Goose Awards highlight the importance of federal investment in scientific research,” said Cooper. “We honor federally funded researchers whose work may seem odd or ridiculed, but produced amazing discoveries. I will continue my support to fund government programs so that scientists can carry out their great work.”
Checkoway, Kohno, Koscher and Savage, for instance, in research funded by the National Science Foundation, hacked into internet-connected cars to demonstrate that functions like engines and brakes could be overridden by a remote attacker. Their work, published in a pair of 2010 and 2011 papers, has informed advances in automotive security.
Other Golden Goose Award winners’ work has resulted in unforeseen impacts on health and medicine. V. Craig Jordan launched his career by investigating tamoxifen, a drug not known for killing cancer cells. However, through a series of serendipitous experiments, it was found to be a groundbreaking treatment for breast cancer. Jordan’s work, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S Department of Defense, has also led to the discovery and scientific understanding of an entirely new class of drugs: selective estrogen receptor modulators, or SERMs.
Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman were also honored for research work that has led to new medical therapies. Karikó faced backlash in continuing to study messenger RNA, which had not produced any successful treatments. Yet she teamed with Weissman to document the body’s acute inflammatory immune response to mRNA – and then altered the molecular code to avoid that immune response.
Throughout their collaboration, their research was considered superfluous, said Weissman. “People just had little to no interest in it,” he noted.
Today, mRNA serves as the basis for the first two COVID-19 vaccines approved in the United States.
Added Weissman, “We didn’t give up – we saw the potential of it. We saw that it had enormous future impact, and we were luckily right.”
[Associated image: Golden Goose Award; award design by Dan Gray]