Alfred Sommer, Dean, Hopkins School of Public Health wins annual Warren Alpert Foundation prize

May 27, 2003

BOSTON --May 27, 2003-- Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS, Dean, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, will be honored today with the fifteenth annual Warren Alpert Foundation Scientific Prize for his pioneering work that showed that four cent vitamin A capsules can prevent the deaths of millions of lives and blindness in the developing world. The ceremony to bestow the $150,000 prize will be held at Boston's Four Seasons Hotel.

In the early 1980s, Dr. Sommer, an ophthalmologist and epidemiologist by training, was searching for ways to prevent xerophthalmia, or childhood blindness, in Indonesian children. While treating children with capsules of vitamin A--vitamin A deficiency was a known cause of the disease--Sommer recognized a startling trend: children in the trial who received Vitamin A--in addition to retaining their vision--were dying at much lower rates than children who were receiving a placebo.

Sommer went on to replicate this work in Nepal and Africa, proving the trend in different countries and showing that even mild vitamin A deficiency dramatically increases childhood mortality rates, primarily because this deficiency reduces resistance to infectious diseases such as measles and diarrhea.

Moving from science to practice, Sommer next showed that the debilitating consequences of vitamin A deficiency could be effectively, quickly, and cheaply treated with oral high-dose vitamin A supplementation. In 1995, a United Nations Children's Fund report estimated that 1 million to 3 million lives could be saved annually if young children in the Third World took a vitamin A pill two or three times a year. The annual cost per child: 4 to 6 cents.

As a result, the World Development Report (World Bank) declared vitamin A supplementation one of the most cost-effective of all health interventions. The latest research by Dr. Sommer and his colleagues has shown that supplementing women of childbearing age with vitamin A or beta-carotene can reduce maternal mortality by an average of 45 percent. These dramatic results are now being tested in a new, large, randomized, controlled, field trial in Bangladesh, where the potential benefits of simultaneous supplementation with other micronutrients (zinc, folate, iron, B-complex) are being determined.

The Warren Alpert Foundation

Chelsea, Massachusetts native Warren Alpert, chairman of Warren Equities, established the Alpert Prize in 1987 after reading an article about University of Edinburgh's Kenneth Murray, who developed a vaccine for hepatitis B. Alpert decided he would like to reward such far-reaching breakthroughs. He called Murray to tell him he had won a prize, then set about creating the foundation. To choose subsequent recipients, he asked Dr. Daniel Tosteson, then dean of Harvard Medical School, to convene a panel of experts to select and honor renowned scientists from around the world. Nominations are invited from scientific leaders nationwide.

Each year the Foundation receives 30 to 50 award nominations for the Alpert Prize. Prize recipients are selected by the Foundation's scientific advisory board, comprised of internationally renowned biomedical scientists and chaired by Joseph B. Martin, MD, PhD, dean of Harvard Medical School.

In 1950, Warren Alpert, a first generation American, started his business with, as he tells it, "$1,000 and a used car." Today Warren Equities and its subsidiaries--which market petroleum, food and spirits, and engage in transportation and real estate investments--generate approximately $900 million in annual volume and have more than 2,100 employees in 11 states. Forbes listed Warren Equities number 225 on its most recent list of the nation's largest privately held companies. Alpert is Warren Equities' sole owner and the foundation's sole benefactor.

Previous Alpert Prize Recipients

Eugene Braunwald, MD,
Partners Healthcare System and Harvard Medical School, and Barry S. Coller, MD, Rockefeller University, for their pioneering work in cardiovascular research which has dramatically reduced the mortality rate for heart attacks.

David Baltimore, PhD,
California Institute of Technology; Brian J. Druker, MD, Oregon Health Sciences University; Nicholas B. Lydon, PhD, Amgen; Alex Matter, MD, Novartis Pharama AG; and Owen N. Witte, MD, University of California, Los Angeles, for their research that contributed to the development of a drug that effectively treats chronic megelogenous leukemia and other forms of cancer.

Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein,
University of Texas Southwestern Medical School; and Akira Endo, Tokyo Noko University, for their research in the development of statins which lower the level of cholesterol in the heart.

K. Frank Austen,
Harvard Medical School, for elucidating the pathway forming the leukotrienes and their role in bronchial asthma.

Robert C. Gallo,
University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Luc Montagnier, Queens College, New York, for their discovery of human immune deficiency virus (HIV).

Leo Sachs,
Weizmann Institute of Science, and Donald Metcalf, University of Melbourne, for their discoveries of molecules that regulate the growth and differentiation of bone marrow cells in health and disease

John A. Clements,
University of California, San Francisco, for the development of the lung susfactant used for treating pulmonory hyaline membrane disease.

J.R. Warren,
Royal Perth Hospital, and Barry J. Marshall, University of Virginia, for identifying Helicobacter pylori as the organism that causes gastric and duodenal ulcers.

Stuart H. Orkin,
Harvard Medical School, for developing a complete description of thalassemia at the molecular level.

Roscoe O. Brady,
National Institutes of Health, for discovering the enzymatic basis of Gaucher's disease leading to its effective treatment.

David W. Cushman
and Miguel A. Ondetti, Bristol Myers-Squibb, for designing a powerful new approach to the treatment of high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.

Yuet Wai Kan,
University of California, San Francisco, for pioneering the use of DNA in the diagnosis of congenital anemias.

Louis Kunkel,
Harvard Medical School, for defining the genetic basis of muscular dystrophy.

Kenneth Murray,
University of Edinburgh, for elaborating the genetics of Hepatitis B as the basis for its vaccine.

The Warren Alpert Foundation does not solicit funds. It is a private, philanthropic effort funded solely by Mr. Warren Alpert, Chairman of Warren Equities, Inc.
Location: Four Seasons Hotel
11:30-2:00 pm
200 Boylston Street,
Boston, MA

CONTACT: John Lacey, Harvard Medical School, 617-432-0442, ( DAY OF EVENT CALL: 617-872-2075.
Wendy Spivak, Alpert Foundation, 617-227-0012, ext. 225 (

Harvard Medical School

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