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Emorn Wasantwisut

Emorn Wasantwisut 130x180During my third year as a biochemistry major at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, I had an opportunity to participate in a summer programme at the food chemistry laboratory of the Institute of Nutrition, Mahidol University. I was motivated by their research to address protein-energy malnutrition among vulnerable population in rural villages. I made up my mind to pursue advanced education in nutrition-biochemistry so as to apply for a position at Mahidol University. Since the institute needed additional expertise in micronutrients, I decided to do my thesis research for my master’s degree (at Brigham Young University, Utah, USA) and my doctoral degree (at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA) on the role of zinc in kidney disease and inflammatory response, respectively. During my post-doctoral years spent at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center. under the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), I became interested in the possible interaction of zinc and vitamin A, and was able to carry out the research in school children of north-east Thailand in collaboration with the USDA research team. With this area of interest came the training opportunity in vitamin A assessment techniques to estimate liver stores (relative and modified relative dose) and conjunctival impression cytology (CIC). In 1990, both RDR and CIC were used in the targeted vitamin A survey in the north and north-eastern region pre-school children. The overall result indicated a 20 per cent depletion of vitamin A stores. In 1991 I witnessed for the first time, eye lesions and blindness due to severe vitamin A deficiency, among malnourished infants of 3-18 months with diarrhoea and/or pneumonia in Yala, Southern Thailand. Seeing these infants touched me to the core, and became my inspiration to work harder with my colleagues at the Ministry of Public Health to eradicate severe deficiency among disadvantaged populations in Thailand. The efforts were gratifying since there were no new cases. Overall, the problem has now been ranked as moderate to mild deficiency, for which dietary intervention should be appropriate.   Therefore, my research in later years has been steered towards bioavailability and efficacy trials of micronutrient-fortified foods and dietary diversification strategies. I believe in the work of public health nutrition, because of its impact in saving lives and improving health and development of vulnerable populations.