WASHINGTON -- The National Academy of Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine, today awarded the Gustav O. Lienhard Award to Robert L. Brent, distinguished professor and Louis and Bess Stein Professor of Pediatrics, Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Philadelphia, for his fundamental research on environmental risk factors for birth defects and for the compassionate counseling he has provided to women and families about these risks. The award, which recognizes Brent's achievements with a medal and $40,000, was presented to him at the National Academy of Medicine's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
"Robert Brent has made outstanding contributions to personal health care services in this nation, both through his ground-breaking research on the level of risk posed by radiation and through his capacity to communicate those risks compassionately to patients," said Victor J. Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine. "His work has touched the lives of countless women and their families for nearly 60 years and has led to truly historic changes in the way women are counseled about risks to the unborn child."
After World War II and the beginning of the Atomic Age, the lay press and many scientific articles implied that any exposure of a pregnant woman to radiation, such as radiation from diagnostic X-rays, represented a risk to the embryo. Brent's research with animal models demonstrated that birth defects, mental or growth retardation, and miscarriage do not result from all exposures but instead occur above a certain threshold -- one that is unlikely to be reached in the vast majority of diagnostic radiological tests.
Based on his extensive National Institutes of Health-funded basic research, Brent has for 60 years provided daily, free consultations to pregnant women and their families who are concerned about preconception and post-conception risks from radiation, drugs, and chemicals. His approach emphasizes that the counselor is an educator about the science of reproductive problems and issues, leaving final decisions to the family. Brent's local, national, and international educational programs related to reproductive risks from environmental toxicants and his development of ethically guided counseling have empowered pregnant women and their families to make informed decisions and prevented the unnecessary interruption of countless wanted pregnancies.
Brent is the 30th recipient of the Lienhard Award. Given annually, the award recognizes outstanding national achievement in improving personal health care services in the United States. Nominees are eligible for consideration without regard to education or profession, and award recipients are selected by a committee of experts convened by the Academy. This year's selection committee was chaired by Ned Calonge, president and chief executive officer, The Colorado Trust, Denver.
The Lienhard Award is funded by an endowment from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Gustav O. Lienhard was chair of the foundation's board of trustees from the organization's establishment in 1971 to his retirement in 1986 -- a period in which the foundation moved to the forefront of American philanthropy in health care. Lienhard, who died in 1987, built his career with Johnson & Johnson, beginning as an accountant and retiring 39 years later as its president. Additional information about the Lienhard Award can be found at http://nam.edu/about-the-nam/gustav-o-lienhard-award/.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit http://national-academies.org.
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