A pair of scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch took home some of the most sought-after awards in the field of tropical medicine. The Walter Reed Medal and Bailey K. Ashford Medal were awarded during the yearly American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Meeting, held recently in New Orleans. Aside from an awards ceremony, the event also featured several researchers from the university who were invited to present the latest updates on the most pressing tropical diseases today, such as mosquito-borne diseases and Ebola.
Tropical diseases are some of the most widespread health concerns in the world, particularly in developing countries, where clean water, sanitation, and health care access are unsatisfactory. The World Health Organization estimates tropical diseases affect at least 1 billion people. Despite these diseases’ prevalence in the world, they are highly preventable and easily treated, assuming that they receive ample time and attention from the medical and scientific community.
This year’s Walter Reed Medal was awarded to Scott Weaver, a world renowned virologist and vector biologist, known best for his contributions to studying tropical diseases and how best to contain them. His research findings and perspective have been published in many of today’s most respected, peer-reviewed journals. He is also the owner of five patents in vaccine development. At present, he serves as the co-chairman of the Global Virus Network’s Chikungunya Task Force, which is focused on vaccine and diagnostic development for this type of mosquito-born disease that causes severe musculoskeletal pain. At present, the disease is most prevalent in Asia, Europe, Africa, and has just begun to spread in the U.S.
The Bailey K. Ashford Medal went to Slobodan Paessler for being an early- or mid-career member of the society who has made exemplary contributions to the field. Paessler is known internationally for his groundbreaking and comprehensive work on viral diseases, and the development of vaccines and antiviral medications, made possible by UTMB’s highly advanced vaccine development programs. Paessler’s current research focus is on RNA viruses that cause encephalitis, hemorrhagic fever, or respiratory infections. Currently, he is a co-principal investigator on a collaborative study with Etubics Corporation, a recipient of a $4.4 million National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases research grant meant to support influenza vaccine development. Paessler and his fellow researchers are hoping to create and advance a universal influenza vaccine within the next 5 years.
The Tropical Medicine Society is an international organization comprised of scientists, doctors, and other industry leaders, united under a single mission to boost global health by addressing infectious diseases prevalent in the world’s developing regions.