Two scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are among the 84 members and 21 foreign associates elected to the National Academy of Sciences this year. Election to the academy — which was announced May 3 — is considered one of the highest honors that can be awarded to a U.S. scientist or engineer.
The university’s newest academy members are: Kenneth M. Murphy, MD, PhD, the Eugene Opie Centennial Professor of Pathology and Immunology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator; and Herbert W. “Skip” Virgin IV, MD, PhD, the Edward Mallinckrodt Professor and head of the Department of Pathology and Immunology.
Murphy, who came to Washington University as a pathology resident in 1984, is known for his research into the development of immune cells known as T cells and the way they work with other factors to fight infections.
In recent years, Murphy has shifted his lab’s focus to transcriptional programs of dendritic cells. Such cells sense the presence of pathogens and direct the development of T cells and other immune cells.
Previously, he was director of the Immunology Program of the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences. He also is the lead author of the widely respected and comprehensive textbook, “Janeway’s Immunobiology.”
Murphy earned his medical and doctoral degrees at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1984. He did postdoctoral work at Washington University and in 1989 was named an assistant professor of pathology and immunology. He became an associate professor in 1994, professor in 1999 and was named the Eugene L. Opie First Centennial Professor of Pathology and Immunology in 2011.
He is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the American Association of Physicians.
He also is a past recipient of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation’s Career Development Award and of the School of Medicine’s Distinguished Investigator Award.
Virgin joined Washington University in 1990, as an instructor in the department of medicine and pathology and immunology. He became a professor of pathology and immunology in 2002 and was named the Edward Mallinckrodt Professor of Pathology and Immunology and head of the department in 2006. He was named a professor of medicine in 2008.
His research includes studies to understand how the immune system responds to chronic viral infections. Virgin and his colleagues have found that, in addition to causing disease, chronic viruses can have beneficial effects on host immunity.
Among Virgin’s many contributions to scientific research, he and his colleagues became the first to successfully grow noroviruses in the laboratory. Norovirus disease is characterized by frequent vomiting and diarrhea over the course of 1-2 days. The accomplishment has helped scientists seek ways to weaken norovirus, for use as a vaccine.
Virgin also served as director and principal investigator of the Midwest Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research.
He earned his medical and doctoral degrees at Harvard University Medical School in 1985. Before coming to Washington University, he completed a residency in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a postdoctoral fellowship in microbiology and molecular genetics at Harvard.
He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the American Association of Physicians. He also is a recipient of the School of Medicine’s Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award and the Academic Mentorship Award of the Academic Women’s Network of Washington University.