NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Announces First Pollin Prize In Pediatric Research Recognizing Developers Of Revolutionary Oral Rehydration Therapy

"Most Important Medical Discovery of 20th Century" Saves Millions of Children's Lives Annually Worldwide

Nov 15, 2002


The first Pollin Prize for Pediatric Research, the sole international award for advances in children's health care, has been awarded to four clinician-scientists who made seminal contributions to the discovery and implementation of a simple, inexpensive, and dramatically effective therapy to combat one of the most common life-threatening pediatric illnesses – infectious diarrhea.

The recipients of the 2002 Pollin Prize are: Norbert Hirschhorn, MD, Consultant, Yale/World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Health Promotion Policy and Research, Yale University School of Medicine; Dilip Mahalanabis, MBBS, Director, Society for Applied Studies, Calcutta, India; David R. Nalin, MD, FACP, Merck Vaccine Division, Merck & Co.; and Nathaniel F. Pierce, MD, Professor of International Health and Disease Prevention Control and The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Oral rehydration therapy (ORT), originally tested in refugee camps in India and Bangladesh (then the Eastern Province of Pakistan) in the 1960s and 1970s, is now used worldwide for both children and adults. Since the adoption of ORT, the annual mortality rate for children with acute infectious diarrhea has decreased from five million to 1.8 million. ORT has had a particular impact on saving children's lives throughout Asia, Africa and South America with the largest influence made in Bangladesh and India.

Hailed by The Lancet as "the most important medical discovery of the 20th century," ORT is a simple solution of glucose (a sugar) and salts that are supplied in packets, mixed with boiled water and administered by mouth. The solution replaces the essential fluids and electrolytes lost by patients stricken with severely dehydrating, potentially fatal diarrhea. In healthy people, glucose is rapidly and actively absorbed, along with water and sodium (salt) through the gastrointestinal system; studies have shown that this process remains intact even in patients with severe diarrhea, thus providing a means of replenishing water and sodium by oral administration of a simple, inexpensive solution.

The value of ORT strategy, compared to intravenous (IV) fluid replacement, was originally viewed with doubt by many in the worldwide medical community. Although ORT was shown to be as effective as intravenous fluid replacement, experts still expressed caution and advised that its administration be left to physicians and trained health workers. The recipients of the 2002 Pollin Prize were not only instrumental in the development of an effective oral formula responsible for saving millions of lives over the years, but also in the demonstration that ORT could be effectively administered by nonskilled medical workers as well as family members and friends, even under extremely trying "field" conditions. ORT is now an accepted therapy used in both developing and developed nations worldwide.

"The work of these physicians was in the greatest tradition of the controlled investigation and application of fundamental scientific insights to a widespread public health problem of lethal consequence," says Rudolph Leibel, MD, professor of pediatrics and head of the Division of Molecular Genetics at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. Dr. Leibel is chairman of the selection panel and coordinates the administration of the Pollin Prize.

The Pollin Prize recognizes outstanding achievement in biomedical or public health research of international significance that is related to children's health. It is the sole such award in pediatric research. Herbert Pardes, MD, president and chief executive officer of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and chief executive officer of NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System says, "The Pollin Prize in Pediatric Research fills an important need in an area of medicine that is basic to the lives of all people."

"It is vital to recognize and foster the achievements of researchers whose work has had such a long-lasting, widespread, and positive impact throughout the world," says Gerald Fischbach, MD, executive vice president for Health and Biomedical Sciences and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine at Columbia University.

The award consists of a $100,000 award to the recipients and a $100,000 fellowship stipend to be assigned by the recipients to a young investigator at one of their institutions who is working in an area related to that of the recipients. The stipend is intended to support a substantial portion of two years of salary and laboratory expenses.

The Pollin Prize was created by Irene and Abe Pollin and their family of Chevy Chase, Maryland. The prize is funded by the Linda and Kenneth Pollin Foundation and administered by NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. The Pollin family, prominent philanthropists, are perhaps best-known as the co-owners of the Washington Wizards basketball team. Irene Pollin, a psychiatric social worker and lecturer in the department of psychiatry at Harvard University, created Medical Crisis Counseling and has written several books and articles on crisis counseling and the emotional management of long-term illness. As president and founder of the Linda and Kenneth Pollin Foundation, she serves on a number of national advisory boards and commissions in the field of mental health and women's health, and is a co-founder and chairperson of the Sister To Sister – Everyone Has A Heart Foundation, an organization whose aim is to increase women's awareness of heart disease and provide free cardiac screenings.

By recognizing outstanding achievement in pediatric biomedical and public health research, and at the same time fostering the work of young investigators, we hope to encourage as many of our best scientific minds as possible to address themselves to the problems of children's health and illness worldwide as did these extremely worthy recipients of this first award, Mr. and Mrs. Pollin say.