NIH Sabin Gold Medal Awarded to Vaccine Developer Dr. Albert Z. Kapikian


BALTIMORE -- Albert Z. Kapikian, MD, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was awarded the prestigious Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal at a ceremony on May 10, 2005. Cited for his "extraordinary achievements in vaccinology," Kapikian is the 13th recipient of this recognition, awarded annually by the Sabin Vaccine Institute to honor achievements by vaccinologists and infectious disease experts. In addition, John R. La Montagne, PhD, who served as NIAID deputy director from 1998 until his death in November 2004, was posthumously recognized at the ceremony, which was held in conjunction with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Eighth Annual Conference on Vaccine Research in Baltimore, Md.


Kapikian's career of more than 47 years, with groundbreaking medical research contributions, is distinguished by the development of the first licensed rotavirus vaccine.


"This well-deserved honor recognizes decades of creative research by Dr. Kapikian and his collaborators," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, MD. "Dr. Kapikian's scientific ingenuity, perseverance and leadership, notably in the development of vaccines against rotavirus, have been remarkable."


"Albert Kapikian's contribution to mankind through the field of vaccines is truly extraordinary," says H.R. Shepherd, DSc, chairman of the Sabin Vaccine Institute. "It takes a great vision and dedication to achieve such progress for humanity."


In the 1950s Kapikian began studying the epidemiology and causes of various viral diseases. He is renowned for pioneering studies using electron microscopy to discover and characterize viruses causing major diseases in humans. In 1972, Kapikian identified the Norwalk virus, the first virus associated with acute epidemic gastroenteritis, gaining recognition as "the father of human gastroenteritis virus research." In 1973, he and two colleagues identified the virus that causes hepatitis A. He also became the first in the United States to detect and visualize human rotavirus, which was discovered by others in Australia. He dedicated his efforts to studying this leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and children, which accounts for more than 500,000 deaths annually, predominantly in the developing world.


Kapikian led a nearly 25-year effort to develop an oral rotavirus vaccine. The NIAID team's rotavirus vaccine strategy involved mating outer proteins from different human rotavirus strains with a monkey rotavirus that is attenuated for humans and combining the resulting hybrid viruses into one vaccine. From a single-strain vaccine in 1984, the vaccine was made protective against the four most important clinical strains of rotavirus. In 1998, this vaccine became the first rotavirus vaccine licensed in the United States.


Kapikian graduated from Cornell University Medical College in 1956 and in 1957 joined NIH as a commissioned officer of the U.S. Public Health Service. In 1967 he was appointed head of NIAID's Epidemiology Section of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, a position he holds today as a member of the Civil Service.


La Montagne's 30-year career at NIH also was recognized at the ceremony.La Montagne contributed to international efforts to fight emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, including those related to biodefense. His longtime colleague, Regina Rabinovich, MD, MPH, director of infectious diseases for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, presented the special award to his widow, Mary Elaine Elliot La Montagne.


Source: National Institutes of Health

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