|Vol. 22, No. 3||February 15, 2000|
Dr. Beasley Wins International Honor for Hepatitis B Work
by SCOTT MERVILLE
The University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center
Dr. R. Palmer Beasley, dean of The University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center School of Public Health, will receive another prestigious international award for his relentless and successful pursuit of a solution to the deadly puzzle posed by the hepatitis B virus.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit of Thailand presented Dr. Beasley with the Prince Mahidol Award for Medicine on Jan. 31 at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
The annual prize, awarded by the Prince Mahidol Foundation on the recommendation of an international panel of experts, is a tremendous honor for Dr. Beasley, says Dr. M. David Low, president of UT-Houston. "Few, if any, medical professionals in the world have done more to prevent cancer than Palmer Beasley," Dr. Low says. "The Prince Mahidol Award is well-deserved recognition for 30 years of outstanding work, which includes proving that the hepatitis B virus is the major cause of liver cancer, a controversial idea at the time. His subsequent leadership in establishing the vaccine and advocating global inoculation has saved countless lives worldwide."
In addition to his connecting of hepatitis B to liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma), the award citation also notes Dr. Beasley's groundbreaking work on transmission of the virus, including the discovery that infected mothers pass the virus to infants during childbirth.
Dr. Beasley says receiving the Prince Mahidol Award is thrilling and gratifying. "I have had the rare good fortune to see through a complete problem, from establishing the epidemiology of transmission and the connection to liver cancer, to conducting definitive studies on immunization, to leading the effort for worldwide immunization."
Dr. Beasley, who remains involved in hepatitis B research and prevention advocacy, stressed that "many people contributed to the work for which I am being honored, including my own team of more than 20 people in Taiwan, scientists and public officials in Taiwan, many people in numerous countries, and my wife and co-investigator Dr. Lu-yu Hwang."
While the worldwide hepatitis B epidemic remains severe, particularly in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, immunization has a successful track record. Dr. Beasley and his colleagues conducted the original, definitive field trials of hepatitis B virus vaccine in Taiwan, providing the data essential for licensure of the vaccine, which is now used in about 100 countries. Today, Taiwan has an excellent immunization program, Dr. Beasley says, "and it has been dramatically successful." Hepatitis B carrier rates among Taiwanese have dropped from the 12 to 15 percent range to 1 percent. The World Health Organization notes that hepatitis B vaccine is the only vaccine against a major human cancer.
Hepatitis B is transmitted by infected mothers during childbirth, through unprotected sex, the sharing of unsterile needles and via close contact with chronic carriers (child-to-child, mother-to-child), including persistent exposure to saliva of chronic carriers.
Two Prince Mahidol awards are made annually, one for public health and one for medicine. A $50,000 cash prize for each is included. There were 57 nominees from 25 nations this year for the honor named after Thai Prince Mahidol of Songkla, the father of King Bhumibol. Prince Mahidol personally financed the training of a core group of scholars in the basic sciences and worked continually to upgrade medical care in Thailand. He earned his M.D. and a certificate of public health from Harvard, and returned to Thailand to practice medicine. He died at age 37 in 1929.
Dr. Beasley came to UT-Houston to lead the School of Public Health in 1987. The school now ranks third nationally in funded research and has grown in enrollment, programs, faculty and prestige. Dr. Beasley earned his undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College and his M.D. at Harvard. He holds a master's degree in preventive medicine from the University of Washington. He also is professor of epidemiology and the Ashbel Smith Professor at the School of Public Health.
Dr. Beasley's work on hepatitis B earned him the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine in 1985 and the Charles S. Mott-General Motors Foundation Prize in 1987.
©2006 Texas Medical Center