Pollin Pediatric Research Prize Awarded for Discovery of Lifesaving Treatment of Infant Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Dr. John A. Clements Receives $200,000 Pollin Prize for 2008 — Largest Prize of Its Kind Recognizes Research Leading to Important Improvements in Children's Health

Apr 3, 2008


Dr. John A. Clements is the recipient of the 2008 Pollin Prize in recognition of his seminal contributions to our understanding of how lungs hold air, and to the development of a lifesaving treatment for respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) in infants. Once this country's largest contributor to infant mortality, neonatal RDS now causes very few deaths.

The sixth annual $200,000 Pollin Prize, the largest international award for pediatric research, recognizes outstanding achievement in biomedical or public health research resulting in important improvements to the health of children. Half of the award will be provided by Dr. Clements to support the research of an investigator chosen by him. He has selected Dr. Magda Petryniak of the University of California San Francisco. Her research focuses on a relevant area of neonatology: the development of the brain, its responses to injury and mechanisms for repair in newborn infants.

Dr. Clements is the Emeritus Julius H. Comroe Jr., Professor of Pulmonary Biology, emeritus professor of pediatrics, and retired member of the Graduate Program in Biophysics at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

The awards ceremony will take place on April 4 at the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian Wintergarden (3959 Broadway). Presentations include one by Dr. Clements, at 10:30 a.m., and a luncheon and awards ceremony with keynote speaker at 12:15 p.m.

"In the 1950s and earlier, respiratory distress syndrome, sometimes referred to as 'hyaline membrane disease,' was the most common cause of infant death, resulting in 30,000 deaths each year in the United States. Today, this number has been reduced by 97 percent. This amazing improvement is a direct result of research breakthroughs by Dr. John Clements. His insights have helped us to understand the essential role of pulmonary surfactant in normal lung function, a discovery that led to an effective treatment for RDS and the genesis of a new area of pulmonary biology," says Dr. Herbert Pardes, president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Replacement surfactant is now a standard therapy for premature infants in most countries, and it is also being examined for its applicability to other diseases, such as adult RDS, asthma, cystic fibrosis and pneumonia.

Dr. Rudolph Leibel, chairman of the selection panel that coordinates the administration of the Pollin Prize, says, "It is our intent that the Prize both recognizes outstanding and important biomedical research, and encourages others to pursue research that specifically benefits children." Dr. Leibel is co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, chief of the Division of Molecular Genetics, and professor of pediatrics and medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He is also a pediatrician at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian.

Dr. John A. Clements and Discovery of Lung Surfactant

After graduating in 1947 from Cornell University Medical College (now Weill Cornell Medical College), Dr. Clements joined its Physiology Department as a research fellow and instructor. Two years later, at the United States Army Medical Research Laboratory at Edgewood Arsenal, Md., he developed an interest in pulmonary function and began to elucidate the physical and chemical properties of a previously unknown natural material he named "lung surfactant." His pioneering application of biochemistry to respiratory mechanics paved the way for research, by Dr. Clements and others that described the lipid-protein substance and its role in maintaining the expansion of the lung's airspaces. His findings also led directly to the discovery, in 1959, that surfactant was missing from the lungs of infants who had died with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) — and to later efforts that developed surfactant substitutes.

Since joining the UCSF faculty in 1960, Dr. Clements has worked closely with its neonatologists to incorporate physiological concepts and methods into the care of severely ill newborns; to develop one of the world's first Intensive Care Nurseries; and to train many fellows who have become leaders in academic medical centers around the world. In addition, he has been active throughout his career in editorial duties for scientific journals and in service to professional societies.

He continues to work at the university several days a week, writing, editing, consulting and working with colleagues to complete research on surface tension in the lung's airways — research that may have numerous clinical applications.

Dr. Clements has received dozens of honors, including the Christopher Columbus Discovery Award of the United States Congress; Career Investigatorship of the American Heart Association for 29 years; Research Achievement Award of the American Heart Association; Warren Alpert Foundation Prize at Harvard Medical School; Apgar Award of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Trudeau Medal of the American Lung Association; Fellow of the American College of Chest Physicians; Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Ulf von Euler Memorial Lecture of the Karolinska Institute at the Nobel Foundation; among others.

Dr. Clements has given invited lectures at and received honorary doctorates from universities in North and South America, Asia, United Kingdom and Europe. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (U.S.), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal College of Physicians of London, and an honorary life member of several medical societies in North and South America.

The Pollin Prize

Created in memory of Linda and Kenneth Pollin, and administered by NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, The Pollin Prize consists of a $100,000 award to the recipient or recipients, and a $100,000 fellowship stipend to be awarded by the recipient or recipients to a young investigator, selected by the recipients, who is working in a related area. The stipend is intended to support a substantial portion of salary and laboratory expenses for two years.

The Pollin family, prominent philanthropists, is perhaps best known as the co-owners of the Washington Wizards basketball team. A psychiatric social worker and lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard University, Irene Pollin created Medical Crisis Counseling in 1980, which treats patients and families coping with chronic illness. She 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 fields of mental health and women's health, and is 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.

Previous Pollin Prize recipients include, in 2002, Drs. Norbert Hirschorn, Dilip Mahalanabis, David R. Nalin and Nathaniel F. Pierce for developing oral rehydration therapy; in 2003, Drs. Emil Frei II, Emil J Freireich, James F. Holland and Donald Pinkel for developing of treatments for childhood leukemia; in 2004, Dr. Alfred Sommer for discoveries leading to the widespread use of inexpensive vitamin A supplements; in 2005, Drs. Eric N. Olson and Abraham M. Rudolph for advancing the understanding of congenital heart malformations; and, in 2007, Dr. Samuel L. Katz for contributions to the development of the measles vaccine.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, based in New York City, is the nation's largest not-for-profit, non-sectarian hospital, with 2,242 beds. The Hospital has nearly a million patient visits in a year, including more than 220,000 visits to its emergency departments — more than any other area hospital. NewYork-Presbyterian provides state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine at five major centers: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Allen Pavilion and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester Division. One of the largest and most comprehensive health-care institutions in the world, the Hospital is committed to excellence in patient care, research, education and community service. It ranks sixth in U.S.News & World Report's guide to "America's Best Hospitals," ranks first on New York magazine's "Best Hospitals" survey, has the greatest number of physicians listed in New York magazine's "Best Doctors" issue, and is included among Solucient's top 15 major teaching hospitals. The Hospital is ranked with among the lowest mortality rates for heart attack and heart failure in the country, according to a 2007 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report card. The Hospital has academic affiliations with two of the nation's leading medical colleges: Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Media Contact:

Belinda Mager 212-305-5587