Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS '73, studies the causes and prevention of childhood micronutrient malnutrition and mortality, and the causes and prevention of blinding diseases.
al sommer, dean, epidemiology, international health, ophthalmology, vitamin A, blindness prevention, glaucoma, visual disorders, micronutrients, clinical guidelines
Experiences & Accomplishments
Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS '73, is professor of Epidemiology, International Health, and (at the School of Medicine) Ophthalmology. He was dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health from 1990-2005. His research interests include outcomes assessment, child survival, epidemiology of visual disorders, glaucoma, vitamin A deficiency, blindness prevention strategies, cost-benefit analysis, the growing interface between medicine and public health, and clinical guidelines.
His long-term, continuing research involves the cause, magnitude, consequences, and control of vitamin A deficiency and, most recently, those of related micronutrients. In a series of complex intervention trials Sommer conducted in Indonesia (1976-1980), he and his research team discovered that vitamin A deficiency was far more common than previously recognized, and that even mild vitamin A deficiency dramatically increases childhood mortality rates, primarily because this deficiency reduces resistance to infectious diseases such as measles and diarrhea. Parallel studies Sommer organized with colleagues in Africa demonstrated that most cases of measles-associated pediatric blindness were also related to low vitamin A levels.
To prove these observations definitively, Sommer and his colleagues ran a number of large-scale, community-based, randomized trials from 1983 through 1992 and demonstrated the link between even mild vitamin A deficiency and pediatric mortality.
Moving from science to practice, Sommer next showed that the debilitating consequences of vitamin A deficiency could be effectively, quickly, and cheaply treated with oral high-dose vitamin A supplementation, and treatment did not require a sterile injectable preparation. As a result, the World Development Report (World Bank) declared vitamin A supplementation one of the most cost-effective of all health interventions.
The latest research by Dr. Sommer and his colleagues has shown that supplementing Nepalese women of childbearing age with vitamin A or beta-carotene can reduce maternal mortality by an average of 45 percent, and newborn vitamin A supplementation can reduce neonatal mortality by 20 percent.
Honors & Awards
Fries Prize for Improving Health, 2008 Helen Keller Foundation Prize for Vision Research, 2005 The Pollin Prize in Pediatric Research, 2004 Thomas E. Hobbins Health Care Justice Award, Maryland Health Initiative, 2003 Warren Alpert Foundation Research Prize, Harvard Medical School, 2003 Lucien Howe Medal, American Ophthalmological Society, 2003 Special Recognition Award for Leadership, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), 2002 National Academy of Sciences, elected 2001 Danone International Prize for Nutrition, 2001 Bristol-Myers Squibb/Mead Johnson Award for Distinguished Achievement in Nutrition Research, 2001 Gold Jose Rizal Medal, Asia Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology, 2001 F. Parke Lewis Lifetime Achievement Professional Service Award, Prevent Blindness America, 2001 E.H. Christopherson Award, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2000 Gala Honoree, New York Academy of Medicine, 2003 International Blindness Prevention Award, American Academy of Ophthalmology, 1998 International Duke Elder Gold Medal, International Council of Ophthalmology, 1998 Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award, 1997 Helmut Horten Medical Research Award, Helmut Horten Stiftung, Switzerland, 1997 Prince Mahidol Award for International Contributions to Medicine and Public Health, Thailand, 1997 Elected, 19th Chair, Academia Ophthalmologica Internationalis, 1997 International Gold Medal for Contributions to Ophthalmology, Singapore National Eye Centre, 1997 Distinguished Alumnus Award, Johns Hopkins University, 1995 1st Recipient, GVF Prize (Gesellschaft für angewandte Vitaminforschung), Germany, 1995 Institute of Medicine, elected 1992 Joseph E. Smadel Award, Infectious Diseases Society of America, 1992 Mericos H. Whittier Award in Ophthalmology, Mericos Eye Institute, Scripps Institutions of Medicine & Science, 1992 Gold Medal for Contributions to World Ophthalmology, Saudi Ophthalmological Society, 1991 ACAM Achievement Award in Preventive Medicine, 1990 Award for Distinguished Contributions to World Ophthalmology, XXIV International Congress of Ophthalmology, International Federation of Ophthalmological Societies, 1990 Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievements in Health, 1988 National Merit Award for Contributions to Public Health, Delta Omega (Public Health Honor Society), 1988 Distinguished Service Award for Contributions to Vision Care, American Public Health Association, 1988 First Dean's Alumni Award, Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene & Public Health, 1988 Honor Award (1986), Senior Honor Award (1996), American Academy of Ophthalmology, 1986 Delta Omega, Alpha Chapter, 1982 Helen Keller Blindness Prevention Award, 1980 Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, 1963
West S, Sommer A. Prevention of blindness and priorities for the future. Bull WHO 2001;79:244-248.
Christian P, West KP Jr, Khatry SK, Kimbrogh-Pradhan E, LeClerq SC, Katz J, Shrestha SR, Dali SM, Sommer A. Night blindness during pregnancy and subsequent mortality among women in Nepal: effects of vitamin A and beta-carotene supplementation. Am J Epidemiol 2000;152:542-547.
Katz J, West KP Jr, Khatry SK, Pradhan EK, LeClerq SC, Christian P, Wu LSF, Adhikari RK, Shrestha SR, Sommer A, and NNIPS-2 Study Group. Maternal low-dose vitamin A or beta-carotene supplementation has no effect on fetal loss and early infant mortality: a randomized cluster trial in Nepal. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:1570-1576.
Semba RD, Muhilal, West KP Jr, Natadisastra G, Eisinger W, Lan Y, Sommer A. Hyporetinolemia and acute phase proteins in children with and without xerophthalmia. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;72:146-153.
Quigley HA, Varma R, Tielsch JM, Katz J, Sommer A, Gilbert DL. The relationship between optic disc area and open-angle glaucoma: the Baltimore Eye Survey. J Glaucoma 1999;8:347-352.