November 4, 2005

Inaugural Salk Medals will honor leaders for improving health care of Haitian poor and cancer therapy worldwide

Salk News

Inaugural Salk Medals will honor leaders for improving health care of Haitian poor and cancer therapy worldwide

La Jolla, CA – As part of its anniversary celebrations, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies will honor on Nov. 12, two individuals whose life work has taken very different approaches to helping humanity.

Paul Farmer, M.D., Ph.D., who is dedicated to improving the health care of the people of Haiti, will receive the Salk Institute Medal for Health and Humanity, and Donald Metcalf, M.D., whose research on cancer has improved the treatment of this disease, will receive the Salk Institute Medal of Research Excellence.

Both inaugural medals, which were designed by the artist Paloma Picasso, will be presented at the first ‘Sensational Salk’ event, to be held Saturday evening, Nov. 12, on the institute’s campus in La Jolla.

On Friday afternoon, Nov. 11, both awardees will talk about their life work in presentations that will be open to the public.

The Salk Medals were created this year to reflect the 50th anniversary of Dr. Jonas Salk’s development of the first safe and effective polio vaccine, and the 40th anniversary of the opening of the institute’s research campus, designed by the famous architect Louis Kahn.

In 1960, Salk founded the institute, today an international leader in basic research in the biological sciences.

The Salk Medal will honor Farmer for dedicating his life to improving the treatment of diseases that disproportionately afflict the poor. His efforts, which have set a global example of compassionate care, are described in the popular book, “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World,” authored Tracy Kidder.

Farmer divides his time between Boston and the rural areas of Haiti and Rwanda. In Boston, he is an attending physician and Professor of Medical Anthropology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

In Haiti, Farmer has established a health system that cares for hundreds of thousands of people. He and his charity, Partners in Health, also built schools and sanitation and water systems, vaccinated all the children, reduced the rate of H.I.V. transmission from mothers to babies, and successfully treated people suffering from drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis.

As ‘Time’ magazine pointed out in an article published last week, the Clinton Foundation and the government of Rwanda have invited Farmer to replicate in the East African country what he accomplished for the poor of Haiti.

Metcalf, Professor Emeritus at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research Melbourne, Australia, is a pioneer of the bench-to-bedside research revolution, designed to take basic research all the way through to the successful treatment of human disease.

His basic research discoveries enabled the development of biological agents to accelerate the regrowth of blood cells in people with cancer, following chemotherapy, bone marrow or peripheral blood transplantation.

In his early laboratory investigations, Metcalf discovered the function of the thymus gland in controlling the formation of lymphocytes, the immune system’s white blood cells. He and his team discovered the “colony-stimulating factors” (CSFs), proteins that control white blood cell formation and are, therefore, responsible for a person’s resistance to infection.

Metcalf’s collaborators then documented the effectiveness of GM-CSF and G-CSF (two primary white blood cell regulators) when injected into patients. These blood cell regulators are now in extensive clinical use throughout the world.

Metcalf, who has received several of the highest honors in the world of contemporary science, including the prestigious American Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award, maintains an active scientific program and continues to work in his lab.

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