Researchers on dementia, antibodies win Mahidol Awards



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Doctors from Canada and Great Britain who have made important advances in the fields of dementia and antibodies received this year’s Mahidol Awards for public health and medicine, in a nationally televised ceremony last week at the Grand Palace presided over by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

prince-mahidol-awardThe awards are considered the most prestigious in Asia for achievements in medicine and public health, and several past Mahidol Award winners went on to win Nobel Prizes or head agencies such as the World Health Organization. The awards are named after Prince Mahidol of Songkhla, the Harvard-educated doctor responsible for laying the foundations of Thailand’s public health system. Prince Mahidol was also the father of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who initiated the awards in his honor in 1992.

More than five millions Americans are living with dementia, and an estimated 47.5 million people around the world are suffering from the disease. Professor Vladimir Hachinski who received the award for Public Health, pioneered work in the relationship between stroke and some forms of dementia with his team at the University of Western Ontario. “I am so grateful to receive this prestigious honor, but I am really accepting it on behalf of a lot colleagues who helped with this research,’’ he said.

In researching the relationship between stroke and dementia, Prof. Hachinski was instrumental in developing some of the earliest prevention campaigns, publicizing and alerting people about what behaviors increase the risk of stroke and dementia, what the early signs are, and what health measures should be taken to reduce the risk. His research also opened a new frontier in the treatment of those diseases.

Sir Gregory Paul Winter, who received the award for medicine, is also a pioneer in the field of antibodies for treatments of diseases. He invented techniques to genetically engineer antibodies from animals so they could be used in humans to treat diseases more effectively than chemical-based medicines, and for diseases that could not be treated at all. While doing other research “I realized it could be possible to turn mouse antibodies into human antibodies” to fight diseases, Winter said.

His work has led to more than 50 new drugs that use antibodies as their principal curative agent to treat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, among others. The challenge that remains, Winter said, is how to engineer the antibodies so that they will penetrate human tissues more easily, quickly and with more power.

Both winners praised the life and legacy of Prince Mahidol, who lived from 1892 until passing away from kidney disease in 1929. His insistence upon actually treating patients, rather than limiting himself to research or administrative work, was revolutionary for a member of the royal family in that era. He was instrumental in developing Siriraj Hospital, founded by his father, into the first international level medical institution in the Kingdom.

Prince Mahidol and his wife Princess Srinagarinda, who graduated with a nursing degree from Simmons College in Boston, instilled in their children a sense of public service and devotion to the people of Thailand that guided King Bhumibol throughout his 70 years on the throne.


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