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Prof honored for measles vaccine

Successfully raising eight kids would seem enough to qualify anyone for an award in child care-but some could say for 51 years, Dr. Samuel Katz has taken care of thousands of other children around the world.

Katz, Wilburt Cornell Davison professor and chairman emeritus of the department of pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center, is one of the primary developers of the measles vaccine that has nearly eradicated the disease.

For this and many other accomplishments, Katz was recently awarded the 2007 Pollin Prize in a weekend-long celebration at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

The Pollin Prize, the largest award of its kind, was established in 2002 to honor one person each year for that person's contribution to the field of pediatric research.

In 2005, the deaths attributed to measles had fallen to less than 500,000 from as high as eight million in the late 1970s.

In addition to creating the vaccine, Katz chaired the department of pediatrics at Duke's School of Medicine for more than 20 years. He now travels the world distributing and developing vaccines and serves on several national scientific boards.

Katz received $100,000 from the award and an additional $100,000 to be given to a faculty member he selected. The recipient, Dr. Michael Moody, instructor in the department of pediatrics, will use the money for his research involving antibody responses in HIV.

"I couldn't think of a better person to win this award," Moody said. "Several people said during the course of the presentation, 'It's so nice to give Sam the award because nobody has anything bad to say about him.' He truly is a nice person, in addition to being a great advocate and a great scientist."

Katz's prize money will go towards forming a Global Health Child fellowship at Duke, created in honor of his wife, Dr. Catherine Wilfert-Katz-a global health innovator in her own right.

Despite strong family ties to Duke, Katz spends a lot of his time abroad. He said his work has taken him to extremely resource-poor countries, such as Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam and most recently, India.

"Our goal has been, first of all, to introduce vaccines that are readily available to some nations but not an active resource for poor nations' children, such as measles and tetanus that are severely life-threatening," he said.

Regardless of their intentions, however, not all scientists such as Katz are greeted with open arms.

"Some vaccine programs run into problems in parts of northern Nigeria where some religious leaders spread propaganda information concerning the vaccines from America containing the AIDS virus or anti-ovulatory agents that could prevent their women from having other children," Katz said.

Katz has also been subject to intense criticism in the United States, when an alleged link was reported between autism and the measles vaccine a few years ago.

"One thing about Sam is that he always managed to be above that," Moody said. "He maintained a very dignified stance in response to some really ugly criticism being put out about various measles groups."

The only thing that really seems to crack Katz's composure is when someone toys with his sweet tooth.

"He loves chocolate," laughed Dr. Dennis Clements, chief medical officer of Duke Children's Hospital. "The only time I've seen Dr. Katz angry in my life is when I ate the last two pieces of chocolate in his refrigerator. They were Godivas."

Clements, who said Katz was the best man at his wedding, praised the Pollin Prize winner for his continued involvement after so many years of hard work.

"He's an inspiration," Clements said. "He still gallivants around the world trying to make sure kids get their immunizations, doing whatever he can in making sure to take care of the world's children."

In his free time-whatever little there is-Katz said he enjoys bicycle riding in the country, listening to classical and jazz music and playing the drums.

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