Professor Hania Szajewska receives AIV Prize in jubilee year

Professor Hania Szajewska of the Medical University of Warsaw will receive the A.I. Virtanen Prize of 10,000 euros for her research on the links between nutrition and health in children. Professor Szajewska’s studies have shown for example the beneficial effects of probiotics on children. Her diverse research has practical applications.

Named after the 1945 Chemistry Nobel laureate and academician Professor Artturi Ilmari Virtanen, the AIV Prize is now being awarded for the 17th time. It will be handed to Professor Hania Szajewska at an event on Thursday afternoon 10 December 2015 where she delivers a lecture entitled The benefits of probiotics in childhood.

Professor Szajewska was moved as she spoke about the prize: “I’m surprised and very grateful for this distinction. I wish to thank the parties awarding the prize, and the numerous people and communities that have supported me at different stages of my career. Receiving the A.I. Virtanen Prize in Finland is particularly meaningful for me. When I began to study medicine, my first international practical training was completed in Finland. I never dreamt that after all these years I would return to this country to receive such a highly regarded prize.”

Professor Szajewska is a distinguished and active researcher who has in particular studied extensively and without prejudice questions related to the nutrition of children and the health effects of nutrition factors (e.g. functional lactic acid bacteria, or probiotics). Her studies have essentially increased understanding on the significance of probiotics to health and well-being. She has published more than 200 scientific articles and been cited more than 5,000 times.

Probiotics, especially Lactobacillus GG (LGG®), have been found to decrease the risk of respiratory tract and intestinal infections in children. Fewer infections occurred and their duration was shorter. Consuming LGG® also prevented diarrhoea which often occurs concurrently with antibiotic treatment. The occurrence of diarrhoea amongst tourists was significantly lower in both children and adults receiving LGG® before the trip. Functional stomach ailments occurred less in school-age children who consumed LGG® regularly.

Professor Szajewska works actively in nutrition organisations and her studies have been employed for example in compiling nutrition recommendations for children. She has also actively developed the teaching of both undergraduate and postgraduate students at the University of Warsaw.

The eponymous AIV Prize celebrates the legacy of Artturi Ilmari Virtanen, the only Finnish winner of a science Nobel Prize, and is bestowed jointly by the Finnish Chemical Society, Societas biochemica, biophysica et microbiologica Fenniae, and the Nutrition Research Foundation.

In addition to the financial award, the Prize comes with the silver A. I. Virtanen medal designed by sculptor Aimo Tukiainen, and a certificate of honour.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences presented the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Professor Artturi Ilmari Virtanen on 10 December 1945 for his inventions in agriculture and food chemistry, especially the method for storing silage (AIV silage). Today marks 70 years since that presentation.

Professor Virtanen has received a great deal of recognition in the fields of research relating to lactic acid bacteria fermentation and nitrogen fixation, but also in nutrition research. He favoured increasing iodine intake, helping abolish the goitre once common in Finland.

Professor Virtanen was Director of the Valio Laboratory for nearly 50 years from 1921 to 1970.