Harvard pediatric ophthomedics: the world’s first to win Nobel prize
— If the Nobel Prize committee thinks Harvard pediatric otolaryngology is a promising new field, it might be the wrong one.
In fact, a Nobel committee panel of researchers recently gave Harvard an “F” for its performance on the science of ophthalmologic surgery.
The committee, chaired by Nobel laureate John C. Ford, found that Harvard was among a small group of institutions that did not follow the best practices when treating children with vision loss due to macular degeneration, a rare but potentially fatal eye condition that can affect up to 20% of all Americans.
Harvard is one of more than 200 institutions awarded the prestigious prize in medical science this year.
The rest of the winners will be announced later this month.
The Harvard committee noted that the school had spent $8.8 billion on ophthalmic care since 2001, including $2.8 million on oculoplasty, or surgery to remove diseased macular pigment, which can cause vision loss.
Harvard, the committee said, spent more than $4 billion on vision care in 2001, and the average cost per patient is $14,000, which is less than a third of the median cost of $70,000 in the U.S.
Harvey M. Cope, chair of the committee that awards the Nobel prizes, said in a statement that Harvard had “exceeded its expectations” on vision research.
“The committee has concluded that Harvard’s ocular care has been highly successful in terms of the quality and the number of patients receiving the best quality care,” he said.
The committee also cited the school’s work on early diagnosis, diagnosis and treatment of macular macular hyperplasia, a disease that can cause irreversible damage to the central nervous system, and its efforts to improve outcomes in children with macular disc degeneration and other eye conditions.
Harold L. Jacobs, director of the school of medicine and director of medical affairs, told reporters that Harvard did not have a large number of children with these conditions.
Harvard was one of about 20 schools that were awarded the prize in the last year, and many of them have been struggling with problems with maculopathy, which occurs when macular tissue becomes thick and thickens.
Cope said in his statement that he hopes the award is a signal that the university will continue to push the boundaries of its own medical science.
But Cope acknowledged that there are some schools that are not as successful as Harvard in treating children.
This year, the Nobel committee said the medical schools at Boston Children’s and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have “excellent or outstanding” research and development programs.
The committees also praised Boston Children for its efforts in early diagnosis of maculopapular keratopathy, a condition that affects more than 15,000 children in the Boston area, and Boston Children and the Johns Hopkins University for their efforts to treat macular ocular disease.
The other two prizes are in physics and chemistry, and each was awarded for work in the fields of quantum physics and in the development of materials.