Villanova University Awards 2014 Mendel Medal to World-Renowned Epidemiologist W. Ian Lipkin, MD

Villanova’s Mendel Medal is named for 19th century Augustinian friar and scientist Gregor Mendel, best known as “the father of modern genetics,” for his discovery of the celebrated laws of heredity that bear his name.

W. Ian Lipkin, MD

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova University has named world-renowned epidemiologist and “microbe hunter” W. Ian Lipkin, MD, as the recipient of its 2014 Mendel Medal, in recognition of his groundbreaking work in the development of genetic methods for microbial surveillance and discovery, as well as his research into infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, and West Nile Virus.

First awarded in 1929, Villanova’s Mendel Medal is given to outstanding contemporary scientists in recognition of their scientific accomplishments. The medal honors 19th century Augustinian friar and scientist Gregor Johann Mendel, Abbot of the Augustinian Monastery, Brünn, Austria, (now Brno, the Czech Republic), best known as “the father of modern genetics,” for his discovery of the celebrated laws of heredity that bear his name. Previous medalists have been Nobel Laureates, Lasker and MacArthur awardees, and recipients of the National Medal of Science.

“It is an honor for Villanova to host Professor Lipkin as the 2014 recipient of the Mendel Medal Award,” said The Rev. Kail Ellis, OSA, PhD, Villanova University’s Vice President for Academic Affairs.  “Professor Lipkin’s rigorous scientific method to detect and eradicate diseases exemplifies his dedication to humanity and has brought about a new era in modern genetics.”

Professor Lipkin is the John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University, as well as a Professor of Neurology and Pathology. He serves as Director of both the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and the National Institute of Health (NIH) Center for Research in Diagnostics and Discovery. He is also a member of the Advisory Committee to the Director of the NIH and is the Scientific Director of the Joint Research Laboratory for Pathogen Discovery Laboratory in the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Named “the world’s most celebrated virus hunter” by Discover Magazine, Professor Lipkin’s scientific contributions include the first use of genetic methods to identify an infectious agent, discovery of the implication of West Nile virus as the cause of encephalitis in North America in 1999, invention of MassTag PCR and the first panmicrobial microarray, first use of deep sequencing in pathogen discovery, and molecular characterization of more than 500 viruses. In 2003, at the height of the SARS outbreak, Professor Lipkin traveled to China at the invitation of the World Health Organization, the Chinese Minister of Science and Technology and the Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Science to co-direct research efforts and train Chinese microbiologists how to test for the virus. More recently, he was the sole external investigator invited by the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia to assist in identifying reservoirs and vectors for transmission of the MERS coronavirus.

Professor Lipkin was named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences and has served as a Visiting Professor at the Japanese Human Science Foundation and at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. He was named an American Society of Microbiology Foundation Lecturer, a Distinguished Lecturer of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, and the Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar in Global Infectious Disease. He is a Fellow of: the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Society for Microbiology, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In addition, he is a member of the Association of American Physicians, the Oxford University Simonyi lecturer, the John Courage Professor at the National University of Singapore, and the Kinyoun Lecturer National Institutes of Health.

Professor Lipkin has been active in translating science to the public through print and digital media. He acted as chief scientific consultant for the Hollywood film “Contagion,” has been featured in dozens of news publications and most recently provided consultation to the creators of the “Plague Inc.” smartphone app.

Established in 1928 by the Board of Trustees of Villanova University, the Mendel Medal recognizes “outstanding scientists who have done much by their painstaking work to advance the cause of science, and, by their lives and their standing before the world as scientists, have demonstrated that between true science and true religion there is no intrinsic conflict.” Past recipients of the award have included Nobel Laureates, outstanding medical researchers, pioneers in physics, astrophysics and chemistry, and noted scientist-theologians. Click here for more information on the Mendel Medal and its history.

Commenting on Mendel’s perseverance, Fr. Ellis noted: “Shortly before his death in 1884, Gregor Mendel was said to have stated: ‘My scientific labors have brought me a great deal of satisfaction, and I am convinced that before long the entire world will praise the results of these labors.’ Mendel’s words are an inspiration for all who labor quietly and unrecognized, but whose faith, dedication to their work and conviction of the significance of their labors gives them the confidence to persevere.”

Professor Lipkin will deliver the 2014 Mendel Medal Lecture "Of Microbes and Man: A Delicate Balance" at 2:00 p.m. on October 31 in the Villanova Room of the Connelly Center. The event is free and open to the public.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.