Researchers bag top award for study on depression

PHOTO: Researchers bag top award for study on depression

THAILAND - For their work on treating depression, two US-based researchers have been named as laureates of the prestigious Prince Mahidol Award 2011 in the field of medicine.

Another researcher from Australia has been named laureate in the field of public health for her outstanding work on the children's disease rotavirus and for developing a vaccine against rotavirus diarrhoea.

Aaron T Beck, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and honorary president of the Aaron T Beck Psychopathology Research Center, is the first person to have worked on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for use on patients suffering from depression.

This method focuses on how thinking affects the way people feel and act - and helps change their thinking, behaviour and emotional responses to become more rational.

CBT has been widely used by psychiatrists and psychotherapists for the treatment of depression. It has helped more than 120 million people suffering from major depression and reduced the rate of suicide worldwide. Beck has become known as the "Father of CBT".

Dr David T Wong, adjunctive professor of neurobiology in the department of psychiatry, Indiana University School of Medicine, developed fluoxetine the first selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor. The US Food and Drug Administration approved fluoxetine for marketing as an antidepressant drug under the trade name Prozac. It has become the most prescribed antidepressant because of its effectiveness, low side effects, overdose safety and once-a-day dosing.

It has helped more than 100 million depressed patients around the world and become the basic model for many antidepressants. Both cognitive-behaviour therapy and fluoxetine have played a major part in the treatment of depression, but the combination of the two gives a still more effective and satisfactory result.

"Depression is severe in Europe, Asia and the United States due to the economic downturn. Fluoxetine has been a useful medicine. And I hope that young scientists and doctors will discover new and better medication," Wong said.

Dr Paul M Grant, who received the award on Beck's behalf, urged Thais suffering stress from the recent flood disaster to accept their losses and move on. This is a successful psychotherapy principle similar to Buddhist teaching.

Dr Ruth F Bishop is professorial fellow at the department of paediatrics, University of Melbourne, and senior principal research fellow at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Australia. She discovered that diarrhoea in children is caused by rotavirus. A protective immunity against the severe disease can be achieved by natural neonatal rotavirus infection. This laid the groundwork for a vaccine to prevent it.

The virus claims about half a million children's lives every year, especially in low- and lower-middle-income countries in Africa and Asia. The vaccine has been widely accepted and used in more than 60 countries, including Thailand, to save lives and provide healthcare for millions of children.

Bishop said she wanted researchers working with children to keep disseminating information about their health problems to the public to encourage support for the issues to reduce child mortality, especially in developing countries.

This year's Prince Mahidol Award laureates were selected from 76 nominations from 45 countries.

His Majesty the King has graciously designated Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn to preside over the awards ceremony at the Chakri Throne Hall today at 4.30pm.

Each awardee will be presented a medal, a certificate and US$100,000 (S$126,700).

Over the past 19 years, 59 individuals, groups and institutions have received Prince Mahidol Awards.

The Prince Mahidol Award was established by His Majesty in honour of his late father HRH Prince Mahidol of Songkhla in 1992 to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth.