Dr. Kent Thornburg receives March of Dimes Agnes Higgins Award

July 24, 2018

Dr. Kent Thornburg

Kent L. Thornburg, Ph.D., professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, and the M. Lowell Edwards Chair of Cardiovascular Research, OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute, is the 2018 recipient of the March of Dimes Agnes Higgins Award. March of Dimes presents this award for Dr. Thornburg's pioneering research and education that has changed the way scientists view maternal-fetal nutrition and the risk of chronic disease later in life.

Dr. Thornburg's work helps demonstrate and explain why babies born prematurely, at low birthweight, or with intrauterine growth retardation are at greater risk for development of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, and other late onset diseases. He is also director of the OHSU Bob and Charlee Moore Institute for Nutrition & Wellness and the OHSU Center for Developmental Health.

For 30 years, he has studied the outcomes of epigenetics, which refers to changes in the body that occur from the ways in which genes are regulated – their activity switched on or off, for example – rather than from mutations or damage to genes themselves. He has made discoveries on the function of the placenta, nutrient transport, embryonic and fetal growth, and risk of disease.

Dr. Thornburg's research helped bring the "Barker hypothesis" from a controversial theory to the scientific mainstream. The hypothesis was named for his friend and professional collaborator David Barker, M.D., Ph.D., FRS, who died in 2013, and posits that many adult onset diseases arise from stresses during pregnancy and development, like malnutrition. Dr. Thornburg has shown that the consequences of poor growth during development or being born too soon can be passed on for generations from a person's parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents, which is why he also calls it the "100-year effect."

Established in 1980, the March of Dimes Agnes Higgins Award honors the late Agnes Higgins of Canada's Montreal Diet Dispensary for her innovation and years of service to the cause of improved maternal nutrition. A pioneer in devising methods of nutritional assessment and counseling, Mrs. Higgins greatly advanced the understanding of healthy eating as a crucial factor in healthy pregnancy and prevention of low birthweight. The Agnes Higgins Award is presented in recognition of distinguished achievement in research, education or clinical services in the field of maternal-fetal nutrition.

March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. The organization supports research, leads programs and provides education and advocacy so that every family can have the best possible start.