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Dr. Basil Hetzel Awarded 2009 Pollin Prize

Breakthrough Work on Salt Iodization to Prevent Brain Damage

New York (Jun 25, 2009)

Dr. Basil S. Hetzel
Dr. Basil S. Hetzel

For his pioneering work that led to our understanding of the effects of iodine deficiency on brain development and the importance of incorporating iodized salt in the diet to prevent brain damage in newborns, Basil S. Hetzel, AC, MD, FRCP has been awarded the 2009 Pollin Prize for outstanding achievement in pediatric research. Dr. Hetzel was awarded the 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.

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 PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide in Australia. Dr. Hetzel's research team in Papua New Guinea (1964-1972) established that brain damage could be prevented by correction of iodine deficiency 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, 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 iodization programs in place, with 68 percent of at-risk households covered, compared with less than 20 percent before 1990. This research led him to begin a worldwide campaign to incorporate iodized salt into the diets of more than two billion people in some 130 countries where iodine is lacking. The World Health Organization now recognizes that iodine deficiency is the most common preventable cause of brain damage in the world today.

About the Pollin Prize

The Pollin Prize in Pediatric Research recognizes outstanding lifetime achievement in biomedical or public health research related to the health of children. Established in 2002, the award was created by Irene and Abe Pollin and their family of Chevy Chase, Maryland, and is funded by the Linda and Kenneth Pollin Foundation. 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.

In presenting the award to Dr. Hetzel at a ceremony at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital in April 2009, Herbert Pardes, MD, President and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, said, "Through his groundbreaking research establishing iodine deficiency as the most common preventable cause of brain damage and his dedicated work championing salt iodization 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. 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."

Rudolph L. Leibel, chairman of the selection panel that coordinates the administration of the Pollin Prize, said, "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.

About Dr. Basil S. Hetzel

Dr. Basil S. Hetzel was born in London in 1922 and 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 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, Dr. Hetzel became chairman of the ICCIDD and still serves as a senior adviser to the organization today. In addition to his 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.

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