Prince Mahidol awards honour breakthroughs

national November 22, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

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RESEARCHERS’ DISCOVERIES MAY CUT DEATHS FROM LEUKAEMIA, BREAST CANCER, CHOLERA



FOUR INTERNATIONAL researchers whose discoveries would help reduce mortality rates from CML leukaemia, breast cancer and cholera worldwide have been honoured with the 2018 Prince Mahidol Awards.

Professor Brian J Druker

In the field of medicine, the awards go to Professor Brian J Druker, director of Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, and to Dr Mary-Claire King, professor of Medical Genetics at University of Washington, it was revealed at a press conference yesterday at Siriraj Hospital.

Dr Mary-Claire King

Druker is recognised for his discovery of a prototype drug used for treatment of chronic myelogenous leukaemia (CML) that advances the development of targeted therapy, while King is recognised for identifying the most common and hereditable gene related to breast cancer as well as developing a breast cancer gene detection kit to provide effective screening and monitoring for people at risk. 

Professor John D Clemens

In the field of public health, the awards go to Professor John D Clemens, director of International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh, and Professor Jan R Holmgren director of the Gothenburg University Vaccine Research Institute in Sweden. Both men worked jointly for over 30 years to study and develop the oral cholera vaccine (OCV). 

Professor Jan R Holmgren

Their collaboration led to the Shanchol vaccine during the 2000s, which is low-cost and provides protection for up to five years and has been recommended by the World Health Organisation since 2010 for countries struggling to control cholera.

The winners were announced by Professor Prasit Watanapa, Dean of Mahidol University’s Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital.

Prince Mahidol Award Foundation president HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will preside over the 2018 awards presentation ceremony at the Chakri Throne Hall on January 31, 2019 at 5.30pm.

A day prior to the ceremony, Siriraj Hospital will invite the 2018 Prince Mahidol Award laureates to deliver lectures based on their achievements, said Prasit in his capacity as the foundation vice president.

Carefully selected

The four laureates were carefully selected from among 49 nominations from 25 countries. A scientific advisory committee screened and made a short list of the candidates for the international award committee’s scrutiny and recommendations. 

Then the board of trustees made the final decision on the award recipients at a meeting on November 2.

In the past 26 years, 79 individuals, groups of individuals, and institutions have received the awards from the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation, which was established in 1992 in commemoration of the centenary of the birth of HRH Prince Mahidol of Songkhla. 

Prince Mahidol is considered the father of modern medicine and public health in Thailand. Each award consists of a medal, a certificate and the sum of US $100,000 (Bt3.3 million). 

Four Thai nationals were among the previous award recipients. Professor Prasong Tuchinda and Dr Suchitra Nimmannitya were conferred the Prince Mahidol Award in the field of medicine in 1996, while Dr Wiwat Rojanapithayakorn and Mechai Viravaidya were conferred the Prince Mahidol Award in the field of public health in 2009.

Among the award recipients, five have subsequently received the Nobel Prize: 

l Professor Barry J Marshall from Australia was conferred the Prince Mahidol Award in the field of public health in 2001 for the discovery of a new bacterium identified as Helicobacter pylori that caused severe gastritis, and its sensitivity to particular antibacterial drugs. He received the Nobel Prize in the field of Medicine in 2005 for the same discovery. 

l Professor Harald Zur Hausen from Germany was conferred the Prince Mahidol Award in the field of medicine in 2005 for the discovery of human papilloma virus HPV16 and HPV18, from cancer tissues and elucidated the mechanism in which the viruses turn normal cells into cancer cells. He received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2008 for the same discovery. 

l Professor Satoshi Omura was conferred the Prince Mahidol Award in the field of Medicine in 1997. He is known for the discovery and development of various pharmaceuticals originally occurring in micro-organisms. His research group isolated a strain of Streptomyces avermitilis that produce the anti-parasitical compound avermectin, which contributed to the development of the drug ivermectin that is today used against river blindness, lymphatic filariasis and other parasitic infections. He received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2015 for the same discovery. 

l Professor Tu You You, a member of the China Cooperative Research Group on Qinghaosu and its Derivatives as Antimalarials, was conferred the Prince Mahidol Award for medicine in 2003 as an organisational category for the discovery of qinghaosu as a new drug for treatment of P Falciparum malaria. He received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2015 for the same discovery. 

l Sir Gregory Paul Winter was conferred the Prince Mahidol Award for medicine in 2016. He was a pioneer in the field of antibody engineering and modification technology. He invented techniques to humanise antibodies for therapeutic uses, which later led to the creation of cutting-edge therapeutic drugs. He received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2018 for the same discovery.

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