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Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, National Academy of Medicine Bestow Honor for Life of Achievement
The 2015 Gustav O. Lienhard Award was presented to Robert L. Brent, MD, PhD, Head of the Developmental Biology Lab, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and Louis and Bess Stein Professor of Pediatrics, Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University. The award, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) administered through the National Academy of Medicine, was presented at the Academy’s annual meeting held in Washington, D.C., in October. It is accompanied by a medal and $40,000.
The Lienhard Award honors outstanding achievement in improving personal health care services in the United States. Each year, an honoree is chosen whose work reflects the values and commitment of Mr. Lienhard, who served as chair of RWJF’s board of trustees from 1971-1986, a period in which the RWJF emerged as a national leader in philanthropy in health care. Nominees are judged on the basis of their achievements, the impact of their work, and their success in overcoming barriers to change the health care system.
Dr. Brent is a world renowned expert on the effects of radiation on the human embryo and in the causes and prevention of congenital malformations. "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, posed a risk to the embryo. Dr. Brent's research 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 very unlikely to be reached in the vast majority of diagnostic radiological tests.
Based on his extensive research, Dr. Brent has for 60 years provided free consultations to pregnant women and their families — first by mail and phone, and now via the internet — who are concerned about preconception and post-conception risks from radiation, drugs, and chemicals. His approach is to educate those who seek him out about the science of reproductive issues, leaving final decisions to the family. Dr. Brent's ethically guided counseling has empowered scores of pregnant women and their families to make informed decisions and prevented unnecessary terminations of wanted pregnancies.
A member of the National Academy of Medicine, Dr. Brent has received dozens of national and international awards for his contributions to the field of radiation biology and embryology. He holds the title of Distinguished Professor at Thomas Jefferson University, a distinction earned by just three people in the 175-year history of the medical school.