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Richard Whitley, MD, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and a renowned researcher on antiviral therapies designed to fight infections in children and adults, has been installed as president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA).
IDSA represents more than 9,000 physicians, scientists and other health-care professionals who specialize in infectious diseases. The society helps establish practice guidelines for the treatment and prevention of infections, promotes the development of new antimicrobials to treat drug-resistant infections and works to ensure a robust and appropriate response to public-health threats such as pandemic influenza.
Whitley is on the Advisory Council for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one of the National Institutes of Health. He also is on the 2009 H1N1 Influenza Working Group of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The group is providing recommendations to U.S. President Barack Obama on needed federal responses to pandemic flu.
A distinguished professor of pediatrics, microbiology, medicine and neurosurgery, Whitley is vice chair of UAB’s Department of Pediatrics and co-director of UAB’s Center for Emerging Infections and Emergency Preparedness. He will serve a one-year term with ISDA that ends November 2010.
Whitley is credited with helping to develop vidarabine, the first drug to treat encephalitis caused by the herpes simplex virus. The vidarabine breakthrough more than 30 years ago opened the door to an entire field of antiviral therapy now crucial for the treatment of influenza, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other infections.
His research also is focused on using a genetically engineered version of herpes simplex virus to fight cancer. Studies show that this enhanced virus, rendered incapable of spreading the herpes virus, enters tumors and attacks cancer-cell biology to stop tumor growth.
Whitley earned his medical degree from George Washington University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at UAB. He is the Loeb Eminent Scholar Chair in Pediatrics and an active member of the American Association of Physicians, the Society of Pediatric Research, the American Pediatric Society and other organizations.