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Breakthrough Work On Salt Iodization to Prevent Brain Damage

Author: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

Published: 2009-04-25


2009 Pollin Pediatric Research Prize Awarded to Dr. Basil S. Hetzel for discovery that maternal iodine deficiency can cause brain damage in newborns.

Main Digest

Dr. Basil S. Hetzel is the recipient of the 2009 Pollin Prize in recognition of his discovery that maternal iodine deficiency can cause brain damage in newborns, and for orchestrating an effective global campaign in support of salt iodization programs aimed at eradicating iodine deficiency disorders.

Pollin Pediatric Research Prize Awarded For Breakthrough Work On Salt Iodisation To Prevent Brain Damage

Dr. Basil S. Hetzel is the recipient of the 2009 Pollin Prize in recognition of his discovery that maternal iodine deficiency can cause brain damage in newborns, and for orchestrating an effective global campaign in support of salt iodisation programs aimed at eradicating iodine deficiency disorders.

The seventh annual $200,000 Pollin Prize, the largest international award for pediatric research, recognizes outstanding achievement in biomedical or public health research resulting in important improvements to the health of children. Half of the award will go to support the work of an investigator of Dr. Hetzel's choosing - Paul Fogarty, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Dr. Hetzel is professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Adelaide and chairman emeritus of the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD).

The award ceremony will take place on April 24 at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital Wintergarden (3959 Broadway). The program includes presentations by Dr. Hetzel and others beginning at 10:30 a.m., and a luncheon and award ceremony with a keynote speaker, Dr. Nevin S. Scrimshaw, at 12:00 p.m.

"Through his groundbreaking research establishing iodine deficiency as the most common preventable cause of brain damage and his dedicated work championing salt iodisation programs, Dr. Hetzel has helped protect an estimated 80 million newborns from needless brain damage - a major public health triumph comparable to the campaigns to eliminate small pox and polio," says Dr. Herbert Pardes, president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. "Dr. Hetzel's career affirms that the work of one man can change the world, and that temerity and determination are necessary ingredients in making even a simple solution successful."

Dr. Basil S. Hetzel, working with a team of researchers in Papua New Guinea from 1964 to 1972, established that severe infant brain damage could be prevented by correcting the mother's iodine deficiencies before pregnancy. Subsequent studies in animal models confirmed the effect of severe maternal iodine deficiency on fetal brain development. In 1985, he played a key role in establishing and then leading the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD), which has since grown into a multidisciplinary global network of 700 professionals from more than 100 countries. A 1999 report to the World Health Assembly indicated that of the 130 countries that had a significant iodine deficiency problem, two-thirds had national salt iodisation programs in place, with 68 percent of at-risk households covered, compared with less than 20 percent before 1990.

Dr. Rudolph Leibel, chairman of the selection panel that coordinates the administration of the Pollin Prize, says, "It is our intent that the Prize both recognizes outstanding and important biomedical research, and encourages others to pursue research that specifically benefits children." Dr. Leibel is co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, chief of the Division of Molecular Genetics, the Christopher J. Murphy Professor of Diabetes Research, and professor of pediatrics and medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He is also a pediatrician at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital.

Dr. Basil S. Hetzel

Dr. Basil S. Hetzel was born in London in 1922 and was educated at King's College and St. Peter's College in Adelaide, Australia. After receiving his medical degree from the University of Adelaide, he pursued his postgraduate education and research in Adelaide (1945-51), New York (Fulbright Research Scholar 1951-54), and London (1954-55). He returned to the University of Adelaide to serve as the Michell Professor of Medicine (1956-68) and later spent seven years in the post of Foundation Professor of Social and Preventive Medicine at Monash University in Melbourne. In 1975, Dr. Hetzel joined the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) as its first chief of the Division of Human Nutrition with the hope of developing an animal model to confirm the effect of iodine deficiency on fetal brain development. The animal studies confirmed his theories about the link between iodine deficiency and fetal development, prompting Dr. Hetzel to establish and then lead the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD), an international, non-governmental organization working closely with the World Health Organization and UNICEF. In 1995, he became chairman of the ICCIDD and still serves as a senior adviser to the organization today. In addition to his groundbreaking work in iodine deficiency, Dr. Hetzel has published articles in more than 200 scientific publications and has worked as the author, editor or co-editor of 18 books. His book "The Story of Iodine Deficiency: A Challenge in International Nutrition" (1989) has been translated into French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Russian. Dr. Hetzel has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Award for Distinguished Research Achievement from the International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disability; the Living National Treasure Award from the National Trust of Australia; the Professor Kazue McLaren Leadership Achievement Award from the Asia Pacific Academic Consortium in Public Health; and the Centenary Medal from the Federation of Australia. In 2007, the King of Thailand presented the Prince Mahidol Prize to Dr. Hetzel for his contributions to international public health.

The Pollin Prize

Created in memory of Linda and Kenneth Pollin, and administered by NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, The Pollin Prize consists of a $100,000 award to the recipient or recipients, and a $100,000 fellowship stipend to be awarded by the recipient or recipients to a young investigator, selected by the recipients, who is working in a related area. The stipend is intended to support a substantial portion of salary and laboratory expenses for two years.

The Pollin family, prominent philanthropists, is perhaps best known as the co-owners of the Washington Wizards basketball team. Irene Pollin has been a pioneer in many areas of women's health. She was motivated to start the non-profit organization Sister to Sister in 2000 to get the word out to women - especially working women, who often have little time to take care of themselves - that cardiac screenings are a key factor in heart disease prevention. A psychotherapist with a Master of Social Work degree from Catholic University and an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Howard University, Mrs. Pollin is the author of two books, "Medical Crisis Counseling" and "Taking Charge: Overcoming the Challenges of Long-Term Illness," and has written many articles on coping with chronic illness. She has received numerous health care awards and is a member of the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Round Table, the Columbia Presbyterian Health Sciences Advisory Council, Howard University's Women's Health Institute Advisory Committee, and American Women for International Understanding.

Previous Pollin Prize recipients include, in 2002, Drs. Norbert Hirschhorn, Dilip Mahalanabis, David R. Nalin and Nathaniel F. Pierce for developing oral re-hydration therapy; in 2003, Drs. Emil Frei II, Emil J. Freireich, James F. Holland and Donald Pinkel for development of treatments for childhood leukemia; in 2004, Dr. Alfred Sommer for discoveries leading to the widespread use of inexpensive vitamin A supplements; in 2005, Drs. Eric N. Olson and Abraham M. Rudolph for advancing the understanding of congenital heart malformations; in 2007, Dr. Samuel L. Katz for contributions to the development of the measles vaccine; and, in 2008, Dr. John Allen Clements for the discovery of pulmonary surfactant and its application to lung disease.

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