Alfred Sommer named Dan David Laureate

Alfred Sommer, University Distinguished Service Professor of Ophthalmology in the School of Medicine and of Epidemiology and International Health in the Bloomberg School of Public Health, dean emeritus of the Bloomberg School, and a Gilman Scholar, has been named a Dan David laureate for his groundbreaking research into vitamin A. Sommer's studies determined that vitamin A supplementation could save millions of children's eyesight and lives, and is considered among the most cost-effective health interventions in the world.

Image caption: Alfred Sommer

The Dan David Prize, an internationally distinguished award, is named for businessman and philanthropist Dan David and is administered by Tel Aviv University. It recognizes outstanding achievement in chosen, rotating fields, judged important to the past, present, or future. Sommer is being honored in the future category, which this year recognizes achievement in preventive medicine.

Sommer will share the $1 million prize with economist Esther Duflo of MIT, whose work on social conditions and strategies related to the alleviation of poverty deals directly with prevention of disease. Traditionally, Dan David Prize recipients donate 10 percent of their prize money to graduate students in their respective fields.

Trained in ophthalmology and epidemiology, Sommer proved that vitamin A deficiency dramatically increased childhood morbidity and mortality from infectious disease. He further demonstrated that a 4-cent dose of vitamin A not only prevented and cured eye disease but also reduced childhood deaths by 34 percent. Because of his work, the World Health Organization and UNICEF and their partners now annually provide more than half a billion high-dose vitamin A supplements to children around the world, saving literally hundreds of thousands of lives each year.

Previous laureates include former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, and last year's scientists, David Botstein, Craig Venter, and Eric Lander.

The Dan David laureates will receive their awards at a ceremony held June 9 at Tel Aviv University.