Three Americans and a Swede receive Mahidol Awards

Doctors and scientists from the West Coast of the United States were honored last week with three of the four 2018 Mahidol Awards for achievements in medicine and public health presented by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn on behalf of His Majesty King  Maha Vajiralongkorn in a ceremony filled with pomp and pageantry at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

The Mahidol Awards are the most prestigious awards for advancements in medical science after the Nobel Prize. Five Mahidol Award winners later went on to receive the Nobel Prize. The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej created the award in 1992 to pay homage to his parents. His father Prince Mahidol was a Harvard-educated physician regarded as the “Father of Thai Public Health,” and his mother Princess Srinagarinda was a nurse educated at Simmons College in Boston.

The ceremony at the Chakri Throne Hall was the pinnacle event of the six-day Prince Mahidol Award Conference in which hundreds of public health and medical practitioners and policymakers gathered to present findings and propose solutions to challenges. The topic of this year’s conference was “Tackling Non-Communicable Diseases Among the Poor.”

Princess Sirindhorn chaired the awards committee, which considered the work and accomplishments of 49 doctors, scientists and researchers from 25 countries.  The winners were announced in November of 2018.

The Field of Medicine award was bestowed upon Prof. Brian Druker, 63, a physician at the Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland, Oregon and Prof. Mary-Claire King, 72, a human geneticist at the University of Washington.

Druker made a significant discovery in the field of targeted cancer therapy. He developed a prototype drug called “Imatinib” for treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia.

Prof. Mary-Clair King discovered a gene causing breast cancer, the most common cancer among women. Each year, there are over 2 million new cases of breast cancer resulting in 200,000 deaths worldwide.

In the field of Public Health, one award went to Dr. John Clemens, 69, director of the International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh and Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology, University of California Los Angeles’ Fielding School of Public Health. The other award went to Prof. Jan Holmgren, 74, from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

Clemens and Holmgren were honored for their work to promote orally taken cholera vaccines rather than vaccinating through injections. Their work led to the establishment of an oral cholera vaccine stockpile to support countries at risk or affected by the spread of cholera. That alone would help save the lives of millions of people worldwide, the committee said.