American inventor and British researcher win Mahidol Awards

pix 1.1An American medical inventor and a renowned British researcher were named last week as the winners of this year’s Prince Mahidol Awards, the most prestigious awards in Asia for the fields of medicine and public health.

Professor Morton Mower from the United States was honored in the field of medicine for inventing, among other things, a heart defibrillator implant. Sir Michael Gideon Marmot from Britain earned the award in the field of public health for his work on the Social Determinants of Health, which has had a strong influence on public health policies.

Mower and Marmot will each receive a $100,000 prize, gold medals and be honored with a ceremony and grand dinner at the Grand Palace in Bangkok on January 28. Prince Mahidol Foundation Chairperson Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will present the awards, representing her father King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Several past winners of the Prince Mahidol Awards later went on to win Nobel Prizes in the field of medicine. The awards are named after Prince Mahidol of Songkhla, father of constitutional monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej. A Harvard-trained physician who specialized in public health, Prince Mahidol is regarded as the “Father of Thai Public Health.”

He broke with the royal customs of his era by actually giving hands-on treatment to patients of all classes of society, eventually working in a missionary hospital in northern Thailand.  He also helped modernize Siriraj hospital, the Kingdom’s most advanced health facility for many decades. His wife, Princess Sirinagarinda, later known as the Princess Mother, was a nurse trained at Simmons College in Boston. She later founded “The Flying Doctors”, teams of physicians and health workers who would fly to remote villages and treat the inhabitants.

Mower is the co-inventor of the Automatic Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (AICD) and the lead inventor of the Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT) device. The AICD is implanted inside the body and is capable of performing cardioversion, defibrillation and pacing of the heart, without the need of an external defibrillator.

It can deliver electrical current when the heart rate is abnormal. The first implant was done in 1980. The device is credited with dramatically reducing the death rate of patients with cardiac arrhythmia, and several million people around the world have received one.

“About 2,000 patients in Thailand are implanted with the device each year under the country’s three major healthcare schemes,” said Vicharn Panich, chairman of the Awards committee.

Michael Gideon Marmot is a pioneer in the field of social epidemiology whose research focuses on the effects of ethnicity, lifestyle, socio-economic status, inequalities and the environment on the health, life expectancy and risks for diseases both within and between countries globally.

He is most recognized for his evidence-based evaluation on the Social Determinants of Health (SDH). The World Health Organization has adopted SDH for public policy planning, and appointed the Commission on Social Determinants of Health in March 2005, which Sir Marmot has chaired since its inception