Public Release: 

U.S. Scientists Honored For Lifetime Contributions In Hepatitis Research

NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Robert H. Purcell, M.D., head of the hepatitis viruses section at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md., received the 1998 King Faisal International Prize for Medicine in a special ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on February 14. Dr. Purcell shares the prize with John L. Gerin, Ph.D., director of the molecular virology and immunology division at Georgetown University Medical Center, Rockville, Md., who has received NIAID support for many years.

The two scientists, working in close collaboration, have devoted much of their research careers to the discovery, identification and characterization of various hepatitis viruses, and to development of diagnostic tests, treatments and preventive measures for hepatitis. They were key in the development of the hepatitis A vaccine that is in use worldwide and have also developed a hepatitis E vaccine that is now in preclinical studies.

Drs. Purcell and Gerin continue to collaborate on studies of mutual interest: testing a candidate hepatitis B vaccine in China; discovery of a new strain of hepatitis D virus in the jungles of Brazil; and studies on the epidemiology of hepatitis E virus in Pakistan.

Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of NIAID, said of Drs. Purcell and Gerin, "Their work is a classic model of dedication to fighting disease across the spectrum -- from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside. We are grateful to the King Faisal Foundation for its recognition of outstanding contributions by these medical researchers and for focusing the attention of the general public on the positive impacts such research has on public health and the citizens of all countries."

The King Faisal Foundation was established 20 years ago in honor of King Faisal ibn Abd Al Aziz. The King Faisal International Prize was conceived not as an encouragement, but rather as a formal recognition of those who have dedicated their lives to serving others. The prize may be awarded in five categories: service to Islam; Islamic studies; Arabic literature; medicine; and mathematics. The prize citation for medicine states that Drs. Purcell’s and Gerin’s work has had a "profound effect on the control and prevention of various forms of hepatitis."

"Our studies have taught us," said Dr. Purcell, "that while cultures may differ from region to region, diseases and the suffering they cause often are universal and, furthermore, almost always very difficult to conquer."

Having completed medical school at Duke University and an internship in pediatrics at Duke University Hospital, Dr. Purcell joined the U.S. Public Health Service and served in the Epidemic Intelligence Service of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1963 to 1965. He studied respiratory viruses and mycoplasmas in the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases before changing his research focus to hepatitis viruses. He has been head of the hepatitis virus section at NIAID since 1974.

Dr. Purcell, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is the author of more than 500 articles, reviews and book chapters, and the recipient of many awards and honors, among them: the Gorgas Medal; the Squibb Award of the Infectious Diseases Society of America; the Gold Medal Award of the Canadian Liver Foundation; and the Inventor’s Incentive Award of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. Dr. Purcell is also an elected fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and holds adjunct professorships at several universities.

Dr. Gerin, whose research has received long-term support from NIAID, is author of some 500 abstracts and journal articles, and has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Clinical Laboratory Analysis, Hepatology, the Journal of Clinical Laboratory Investigation, and Vaccine Research. He is professor emeritus at Catholic Medical College in Seoul, Korea, a member of the scientific advisory board of the Albert Sabin Vaccine Institute, and an appointed member of the Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAID conducts and supports research to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses such as HIV disease and other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, asthma and allergies. NIH is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


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