The Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 5, 1998
Oct. 5, 1998
VOL. 28, NO. 6


New Public Health Institute

Sight and Life Research Institute will examine vitamin-related problems

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

The School of Public Health is announcing today the creation of the Sight and Life Research Institute to carry out research into vitamin-related nutritional problems that constitute major health hazards for tens of millions of people--especially children--around the world. F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., one of the world's leading health care companies and a pioneer in vitamin synthesis and research, joins the school in establishing the institute, and has pledged $3 million to support its work.

The School of Public Health's Sight and Life Research Institute will explore vitamin-related nutritional problems that constitute major health hazards for tens of millions of people--especially children--around the world. Here, Dean Alfred Sommer administers vitamin A in the field.

Malnutrition is implicated in more than half of all child deaths worldwide, a proportion unmatched by any infectious disease since the Black Death. Of the nearly 12 million children under 5 who die each year in developing countries from diseases that are in large part preventable, more than 6 million of those deaths, or 55 percent, are either directly or indirectly attributable to malnutrition. The new institute will direct its research toward solving critical vitamin-related nutritional problems facing undernourished populations and will work to shape policies and programs that effectively prevent vitamin deficiencies around the world. The potential for preventing death and disease from malnutrition and vitamin deficiency is tremendous. In a recent trial in Nepal, vitamin A supplementation reduced maternal mortality by 44 percent.

"For more than two decades, the School of Public Health and Hoffmann-La Roche have collaborated on innovative nutritional research with important implications for human health," said Alfred Sommer, dean of the School of Public Health. "Roche's generous pledge will ensure that, through the Sight and Life Research Institute, this lifesaving work will continue for decades to come."

"The relationship between Roche and Dr. Alfred Sommer of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health has been an extraordinarily fruitful one," said Roland Bronnimann, global head of the Roche vitamins division. "Over the years, Roche's vitamins, funding support and technical expertise, coupled with Dr. Sommer's knowledge and lifelong commitment to nutritional research, have led to dramatic improvements in the health and well-being of millions of people in developing countries around the world. We're delighted to see that work expanded now through the Sight and Life Research Institute."

Examples of pressing public health concerns the institute will address include revealing the roles of vitamin A and other micronutrients in promoting maternal, fetal, infant and child health and survival in countries; developing international guidelines; and stimulating national governments to adopt policies to prevent vitamin deficiencies in the developing world through nutrient supplementation, food fortification and advocating food-based policies and programs that protect the quality of the diets of the poor.

Roche is a leading international health care company with principal businesses in pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, vitamins, fine chemicals, fragrances and flavors. For the past 12 years, Roche has sponsored a program called Sight and Life that is dedicated to preventing nutrition-related vision loss by providing free vitamin A as well as technical and scientific assistance in the developing world. The Sight and Life program, which is administered through the company's global headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, has played a key role in the prevention of blindness and other results of nutritional deficiencies.

The Hopkins School of Public Health has a long history of contributions to the science and advancement of human nutrition. E.V. McCollum, the Department of Biology's first professor and chair, discovered vitamins A and D, thus revolutionalizing nutrition research. Half a century later, Alfred Sommer and his colleagues uncovered widespread vitamin A deficiency around the world and established its link with excessive morbidity, mortality and pediatric blindness. Sommer was honored with the 1997 Albert Lasker Clinical Research Award for his research on vitamin A. Worldwide eradication of vitamin A deficiency has become an important goal of the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the U.S. Agency for International Development.