By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
AMERICAN RESEARCH teams won both the medicine and public health prizes in the 2017 Prince Mahidol Award for their outstanding studies into the human genome and Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine respectively.
The dean of Mahidol University’s Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Dr Prasit Watanapa, introduced the laureates of the 2017 Prince Mahidol Award at a press conference at Siriraj Hospital yesterday. The Public Health Ministry’s plans to introduce the Hib vaccine into the national immunisation programme next year was also announced.
Prasit introduced Dr Eric Green from the US National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) as the award recipient in the field of medicine for his team’s success in decoding the human genome.
Also recognised were Professor Porter Anderson, Dr John Robbins, Dr Rachel Schneerson and Professor Mathuram Santosham, also of whom are also from the United States, for their work in the field of public health for their breakthrough in researching and promoting the Hib vaccination.
“These two gigantic successes in the fields of medicine and public health have contributed to great leaps forward in medicine for all humanity, and Thailand will also benefit from their great works,” he said.
Prasit said Green’s work in deciphering the human genome allowed healthcare professionals to have a far greater understanding of how bodies work at the cellular level and to understand the mechanisms of diseases.
“The human genome project also facilitates the evolution of modern healthcare. For instance, it can help doctors screen for a genetic disorder, or any sign of disease, before the patient gets sick,” he said.
“Knowing the personal genetic information will also improve the medical development of ‘precision medicine’ in which the treatment will be individualised to fit with the patient’s genetic information and make the treatment highly efficient.”
Green said that the momentous breakthrough on decoding the human genome was not solely his work, but involved all the researchers at the NHGRI. He added that the human genetic codes collected by the institution were open to the public and available to researchers worldwide to access and develop further.
The human genome project was launched in 1990 by the NHGRI with the collaboration of researchers from 20 other institutes from the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan and China. The project announced its success in 2000.
Meanwhile, Dr Kulkanya Chokephaibulkit, head of the paediatrics department at the Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, praised the work of Anderson and his colleagues in the Hib vaccine research and promotion.
The team has helped save children’s lives worldwide and seen the successful introduction of the Hib vaccine into the immunisation programme of 190 countries. Thailand will be the latest country to adopt the Hib vaccine into its fundamental immunisation programme for children.
Hib infection is commonly found in infants and children aged less than five. It can lead to fatal illnesses such as meningitis, blood-stream infections, pneumonia and brain abscesses.
Kulkanya said awareness about Hib was minimal in Thailand, because the infection rate in this country was low, which was why it had taken time for the vaccine to be made available cheaply for all Thai children next year.
She said parents could access the vaccine for their children at about Bt500 per dose.