American woman scientist wins 2010 Stockholm Water Prize

08:14, March 23, 2010      

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American woman scientist, Dr. Rita Colwell, who was also Professor from the University of Maryland and John Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health in the United States, has been named the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate, announced the Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee on Monday at a seminar marking the World Water Day.

She has been nominated for her pioneering research on the prevention of waterborne infectious diseases which has helped protect the health and lives of millions, said the committee.

"Dr. Rita Colwell's numerous seminal contributions towards solving the world's water and water-related public health problems, particularly her work to prevent the spread of cholera, is of utmost global importance", noted the committee in its citation.

Dr. Colwell, 76, is widely recognized as one of this century's most influential voices in science, technology, and policy associated with water and health.

"She has made exceptional contributions to control the spread of cholera, a waterborne pathogen that infects 3 to 5 million people and leads to an estimated 120,000 deaths each year," explained Professor Per Arne Malmqvist who is also scientific director in Stockholm International Water Institute on behalf of the Nominating Committee.

Through her groundbreaking research, innovations and decades of scientific leadership, she has defined our current understanding of the ecology of infectious diseases and developed the use of advanced technologies to halt their spread. Her work has established the basis for environmental and infectious disease risk assessment used around the world, said Malmqvist.

"Through her research on its physiology, ecology, and metabolism, Dr. Colwell advanced the fields of mathematics, genetics and remote sensing technology and not only as they relate to these bacteria but to the prevention of other diseases in many developing countries," Malmqvist said in an interview with People's Daily Online.

A Lifelong Career Fighting Cholera

In the 1960's, Dr. Colwell observed that the causative agent for cholera, Vibrio cholera, could survive by attaching to zooplankton. This led to her groundbreaking discovery that certain bacteria, including the Vibrio species, can enter a dormant stage that could revert to an infectious state under the proper conditions. This means that even when there are no disease outbreaks, rivers, lakes and oceans can serve as reservoirs for these bacteria. These findings counteracted the conventional wisdom held that cholera was only spread from person to person, food or drinking water and that its presence in the environment could only be due to the release of sewage.

As a result of her work, scientists are now able to link changes in the natural environment to the spread of disease, explained Professor Malmqvist.

Defining the New Climate for Disease Prevention

Dr. Colwell has shown how changes in climate, adverse weather events, shifts in ocean circulation and other ecological processes can create conditions that allow infectious diseases to spread, and through that link she has led the ability to craft preemptive policies to minimise outbreaks, said Professor Malmqvist.

Her research in the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh, for example, demonstrated that warmer surface ocean temperatures have stimulated the growth of cholera-hosting zooplankton and directly led to an increase in the number of cholera cases.

In the United States she was the first to lead research experiments on the impact of El Niño on human health and the aquatic environment. In the 1990s, Dr. Colwell was the first scientist to research the impacts of climate change on the spread of infectious diseases.

Saving Lives with Low-Cost and High-Tech Innovations

Dr Colwell was awarded for her low cost and high-tech innovations. She has bridged the forefront of science and technology with a lifelong dedication to craft practical solutions to provide access to clean drinking water and protect human and ecosystem health, explained Professor Malmqvist.

Colwell has helped create and lead the study of bioinformatics, a field that combines biology, computer science and information technology and has exponentially advanced the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of many genetic diseases. She has also led the adoption of remote sensing technology to track the movement of diseases globally.
Dr. Colwell developed the first model that applied remote satellite imaging to track and predict outbreaks of cholera before they occur. This model has become the archetype for infectious disease monitoring and prevention used around the world.

A Lifetime of Scientific Leadership

Dr. Colwell was born in Beverly, Massachusetts, in the United States in 1934. She has authored or co-authored 17 books and more than 700 scientific publications. Over the years, Dr. Colwell has worked extensively to spread community-based water safety education and viable, low-cost technological innovations in communities throughout South Asia and in Africa. During the cholera pandemic in Latin and South America in the 1990s, Dr. Colwell's worked as national advisor to multiple governments. In Ecuador, her discovery of the presence of Vibrio cholerae in the hospitals and in the shrimp industry saved countless lives. In Peru, she was honored by the national government for her work to develop drinking water criteria that helped guide policies to curb the spread of the disease.

H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, who is the patron of the Prize, will formally present Dr. Colwell with the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize at a Royal Award Ceremony in Stockholm City Hall on September 9 during the 2010 World Water Week in Stockholm.
2010 marks the 20th anniversary of the Stockholm Water Prize and the World Water Week in Stockholm.

By Xuefei Chen, People's Daily Online reporter in Stockholm, [email protected]
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