Wayne State University

Wayne State professor to be honored by the American College of Nutrition for his life-saving research on zinc

DETROIT – The American College of Nutrition (ACN) will honor Ananda Prasad, M.D., Ph.D., Wayne State University distinguished professor of internal medicine, with its 2014 Alexander and Mildred Seelig Magnesium Award.

Prasad, a world-renowned expert in zinc as a mineral essential to human life, will receive the honor Oct. 16 during the 55th annual ACN conference in San Antonio, Texas. The award includes a plaque and a $500 honorarium.

The award recognizes outstanding contributions defining the role of metals in nutrition. The award was established by Mildred Seelig, M.D., Ph.D., after her husband, Alexander Seelig, died in 1990. Mildred Seelig, who died in 2005, was one of the world's foremost magnesium researchers.

"I am very pleased and honored to receive this award,” Prasad said. “Dr. Seelig served the ACN in a different capacity for many years and was truly instrumental in its growth and reputation both nationally and internationally. She was indeed responsible for my joining ACN, and I enjoyed working with her for many years. Her contribution to the college was truly outstanding, and I am very honored to receive this award honoring Mildred Seelig."

Prasad has made important strides researching the mineral zinc, as well as contributing significantly to the field of hematology and sickle cell disease. His work with zinc began when one of his former professors received an invitation from the Shah of Iran to establish a medical curriculum at the University of Shiraz Medical School and invited Prasad to accompany him. Two weeks after his arrival, a 21-year-old man who looked like an 8-year-old boy came to see Prasad. The patient lacked secondary male characteristics, was considered mentally lethargic and ate clay. Prasad diagnosed the man's condition as extreme anemia, but couldn't understand how such a condition came about because most males do not develop anemia without bleeding.

The condition was so prevalent in Iran that it was considered an epidemic. Prasad studied the condition and hypothesized that because plants do not grow without sufficient zinc, perhaps people do not either.

In the developed world, zinc abounds in a variety of food sources, such as fresh fish, red meat, oysters and dairy products. In developing countries, diets primarily consist of breads and grains, which contain phytate, a substance that binds zinc and iron and prevents both minerals from being absorbed by the human body.

In 1961, Prasad published an article in the American Journal of Medicine suggesting for the first time that zinc deficiency could account for human growth retardation. In a subsequent paper based on studies done in similar patients from Egypt, Prasad established the study subjects suffered zinc deficiency. That study was published in The Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine in 1963 and later was republished in 1990 as a landmark article in the same journal.

After the publication of these papers, Prasad started administering zinc through clinical trials, and his subjects began growing taller and developing male characteristics. In 1975, he suggested the National Research Council set the Recommended Daily Allowance for zinc at 15 milligrams per day.

His zinc studies have saved countless lives in African and Asian countries, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In these areas, the mortality rate from infantile diarrhea approached 85 percent. When the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization adopted zinc supplements to combat infant diarrhea in these regions, the mortality rate dropped to 15 percent.

Prasad received a congressional commendation for his lifelong studies involving zinc in 2011.


Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.