A Johns Hopkins University dean who discovered the life-saving potential of vitamin A was awarded a prestigious public health prize yesterday in Boston.
Dr. Alfred Sommer, 60, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, received the 15th annual Alpert Foundation Prize, given to researchers who have come up with medical discoveries that have led to important advances in public health.
Sommer expressed pride in the honor: "It's one of the few awards for scientific discovery that requires that the discovery actually improves the lives of people."
An ophthalmologist and epidemiologist, Sommer experimented with vitamin A in Indonesia in the 1970s and realized that the death rates of children who took the micronutrient were much lower than those who didn't. He found that vitamin A helped the immune system fight off infection.
Since then, Sommer has persuaded health organizations and governments to fund and undertake regimens of vitamin A, saving millions of children's lives in the developing world.
As part of the prize, Sommer will receive $150,000.
"It's not going to be used for a top-of-the-line Lamborghini," he joked. "It's going in the bank, to be used for something useful downstream."