Date: Feb. 7, 1997
Contacts: Barbara J. Rice, Deputy Director
Shannon Flannery, Media Relations Assistant
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George W. Thorn to Receive 1997 Public Welfare Medal,
Academy's Highest Honor
WASHINGTON -- The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has selected George W. Thorn to receive its most prestigious award, the Public Welfare Medal. Thorn was instrumental in the establishment and growth of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), today the nation's largest philanthropic institution. He is the Samuel A. Levine Professor of Medicine, Emeritus, and the Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic, Emeritus, at Harvard Medical School.
"Dr. Thorn's contributions to science, particularly his work in fostering scientific research and education through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, span more than 40 years and are truly remarkable," said Peter H. Raven, NAS home secretary and chair of the selection committee. "He has made a lasting contribution to the application of science to the public welfare." Established in 1914, the Public Welfare Medal is presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good. Previous recipients include Vannevar Bush, C. Everett Koop, and Carl Sagan.
"Dr. Thorn's astute leadership has been the key to creating an institute that provides invaluable support for many of our nation's most outstanding scientists and students," said Bruce Alberts, NAS president. "One of Dr. Thorn's earliest innovations, for example, selects promising young scientists worldwide and provides them with long-term financial assistance through Howard Hughes Fellowships."
A noted endocrinologist, Thorn first met the wealthy industrialist Howard Hughes in the 1940s and served for a time as his medical adviser. Their professional relationship inspired Hughes to donate money for medical research grants under Thorn's leadership. The grants evolved into a formal program of Howard R. Hughes Research Fellowships, and culminated in the creation of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1953.
Thorn led the institute in various capacities over the next 40 years, serving as its director of research, president, and most recently as chairman of its board of trustees from 1984 to 1990. In addition to its Howard Hughes Fellowships for individual scientists, the institute contributed to improvements in high school science education programs and awarded grants to universities under Thorn's leadership. Today it employs more than 270 outstanding scientists who carry out basic biomedical research at 62 sites. Through its complementary grants program, HHMI supports biomedical researchers outside the country and sponsors a major U.S. science education initiative.
Thorn, an early pioneer in the treatment of adrenal insufficiency, also held posts at several medical institutions, including Johns Hopkins Medical School and Harvard Medical School. From 1942 to 1972 he was physician-in-chief of Harvard's Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, where he helped develop the organ transplant program there. During his medical career, Thorn published several papers in the fields of endocrinology, renal failure, and general medical science. He is a member of more than two dozen medical societies around the world and past president of the Association of American Physicians, the Endocrine Society, and the American Clinical and Climatological Association. He has served on numerous national committees and boards, including those of the National Research Council.
Born in 1906 in Buffalo, N.Y., Thorn earned his medical degree from the University of Buffalo. Colleagues have recognized his life-long achievements by awarding Thorn more than a dozen honorary degrees and 47 other honors, including the American Medical Association's Gold Medal, the American College of Physicians' John Philips Memorial Award, and the Association of American Physicians' George M. Kober Medal.
The NAS Public Welfare Medal, consisting of a bronze medal and an illuminated scroll, will be presented to Thorn on April 28 during the NAS annual meeting. The National Academy of Sciences is a private, non-profit institution that provides science advice under a congressional charter.