Stephen Dewhurst to Lead Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Mar. 31, 2009

After an in-depth, national search, a leading researcher in the design of next-generation vaccines for HIV and influenza has been chosen as the new chair of the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. The appointment will be effective July 1, 2009, pending approval by the University Trustees.

Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., Dean’s Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and senior associate dean for Basic Research for the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, has been with the University since 1990. To assume the new role, he will relinquish his current title as senior associate dean for Basic Research.

I am very pleased to be able to announce that Dr. Dewhurst will be the next chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry, who announced the appointment today. “He is a true citizen of the medical school, medical center and university, who is well known for his extraordinary commitment to education and diversity, his propensity for expansive thinking and his ability to initiate and implement new projects of his own design. All of these skills, plus the exciting potential of his own scientific program, make Dr. Dewhurst an ideal choice to assume the chair of this storied department.”

The Department of Microbiology & Immunology at the Medical Center now ranks 14th in the nation in terms of grant support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and is tied for second in NIH training grants, reflecting a sharp focus on education. Recent peer reviews place it among the very best in the country, with research focused on autoimmunity, biodefense, bioinformatics, biofilms, cancer biology, gene therapy, genetics, HIV/AIDS, immunologic mechanisms and vaccine development.

Dewhurst is to replace Barbara H. Iglewski,Ph.D., who has chosen to step down as chair after leading the department since July 1986, when she became the first female chair in the history of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. A highlight of her tenure as chair came during the period from 1999 to 2004 when NIH grant support to the department increased by nearly 300 percent. Iglewski is a renowned researcher whose work focuses on the molecular mechanisms underlying Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an important bacterial infection that targets patients with weakened immune defenses. She will remain active as a faculty member.

“Dr. Iglewski leaves a wonderful legacy for the department that includes a sterling national reputation for interdisciplinary research excellence, and for outstanding students, faculty, staff and fellows,” Dewhurst said. “I am eager to build on her more than 22 years of accomplishment with even greater collaboration with other research centers at the medical center and the university at large. I also hope to further integrate the department into the medical center’s strategic plan, and to continue a departmental culture that encourages mentoring at all levels, from students to faculty.” 

Dewhurst earned his Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 1987, followed by postdoctoral training at Columbia University and the Harvard School of Public Health. His doctoral and postdoctoral work focused on the mechanisms by which HIV and related viruses cause disease.

He joined the faculty of the University of Rochester Medical Center in 1990, became Dean’s Professor of Microbiology & Immunology in 2002 and associate chair of that department in 2005. In February of 2007, he was named senior associate dean for Basic Research for the Medical Center, a role he will now relinquish.

Dewhurst has more than 20 years experience as a molecular virologist, developing novel methods for the delivery of experimental HIV and herpes vaccines. He also made key discoveries as part of a team that in October 2006 received a $7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop experimental drugs against neuroAIDS, the nerve damage caused by HIV infection that lessens many patients’ ability to think and move. He has served on several NIH special emphasis and regular grant review panels, and is a former Study Section Chair for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He is also a recent past member of the NIH Recombinant Advisory Committee (RAC), which oversees all studies on gene therapy in humans, and a former chair of the University of Rochester Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC). 

Dewhurst is also an accomplished mentor, having received the Graduate Student Society Faculty Teaching Award in 1996, the Graduate Alumni Award for Excellence in Graduate Education in 2001 and the William H. Riker University Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching in 2008. He is a former director of the UR Post-Baccalaureate Research and Education Program (PREP), which provides training for under-represented minority students, as well as the former director of the BIO REU program for undergraduate summer students. 

Currently, Dewhurst serves as principal investigator of the Developmental Center for AIDS Research (D-CFAR) at the Medical Center, a “mini-network” of services, technical capabilities and funding mechanisms designed to increase the overall quality and quantity of HIV/AIDS research at the university and its partners. Recently funded by a $3.2 million NIH grant, the project lists among its five-year goals 25 percent increases in the university’s federal HIV research funding and research faculty size. He is also principal investigator of a NIH-funded pre-doctoral training program in HIV-1 research.

“We chose to offer this position to Dr. Dewhurst after considering ten internationally recognized scientists, some of which already held leadership positions at other institutions,” said Robert A. Bambara, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, who led the committee that began its candidate search in October 2008. “Dr. Dewhurst stood out, not just because he is an excellent scientist, but also because of his experience in acquiring collaborative grants, hiring new faculty, setting up new core facilities, recruiting minority students and promoting collaborations. Almost every faculty member at the university has benefited from his unselfish dedication and effective leadership.”

Along with Bambara, the search committee consisted of Robert Dirksen, Francis Gigliotti, Lynne Maquat, Ignacio Sanz, Elaine Sia, John Treanor and Richard Waugh.

“Given his superb leadership abilities and his intimate knowledge of our strategic plan, Dr. Dewhurst is clearly the best person to build on the tradition of excellence within this department, already a cornerstone of the scientific enterprise in Rochester,” said Bradford C. Berk, M.D. Ph.D., Medical Center CEO.