The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston was established in 1891 as the Medical Department of the University of Texas. It comprises at present four separate health science-related schools and two institutes for advanced study, with the School of Medicine being the oldest medical school in the State of Texas. The institution has a great and longstanding tradition of training physicians who provide medical care to Texans and for advancing knowledge in the field of medicine.
The study of microbiology began at UTMB's inception in 1891 when Dr. Allen J. Smith of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine was appointed to one of 8 faculty positions at the newly organized Medical Department. Dr. Smith was responsible for teaching bacteriology and parasitology to students at the fledgling medical school and served as Professor of Pathology. In 1902, he published a textbook titled Lessons and Laboratory Exercises in Bacteriology. He was the first to identify hookworm eggs in the stools of native-born U.S. citizens, and material collected from medical students by Dr. Smith was used by Charles W. Stiles of the U.S. Public Health Service to describe a new species of hookworm, Necator americanus, in 1902. Dr. Smith and Dr. William Gammon, a member of the second graduating class at UTMB in 1893, constituted the faculty of the Department of Pathology during the early years. Later, the name of the Department was broadened and renamed to Pathology and Bacteriology.
In 1912, a Department of Preventive Medicine was organized and a teaching program in bacteriology (which included parasitology and the nascent science of immunology) and hygiene was developed for medical, pharmacy, and nursing students. By 1917, this department was reorganized as the Department of Bacteriology and Preventive Medicine, a name that persisted for many years. The first head of the Department was Dr. Mark Boyd, who was trained at Harvard University and the University of Iowa. While in Galveston, he directed the plague laboratory, which was established in connection with a 1920 plague epidemic in the port city. Dr. Boyd published an early textbook of preventive medicine in 1920 and made original contributions to our understanding of plague, typhoid fever, sprue, dysentery, as well as clinical pathology. The Department remained small, however, and consisted of only two faculty members.
In 1921, Dr. William B. Sharp, from Rush Medical School, began his 36-year tenure as Chairman of the Department of Bacteriology and Preventive Medicine. In the spring of that year, the Regents of the University of Texas authorized the Department to supervise the work of graduate students who could earn master's (and later, doctoral) degrees to be conferred by the University of Texas at Austin. This was the beginning of graduate education in microbiology at UTMB. The number of faculty increased several-fold and bacteriology faculty established diagnostic laboratories within clinical departments. Teaching responsibilities expanded to include medical technology, nursing, and pharmacy as well as medical students. Notably, research activity was increased during this period and the first federal research grants were obtained.
The name of the Department was changed to Microbiology in 1957 when Dr. Willard F. Verwey was appointed Chairman. Dr. Verwey was trained in bacteriology at Rutgers University and the Johns Hopkins University. He was instrumental in the development and testing of new cholera vaccines. As a result of Dr. Verwey's efforts, the Department acquired an international reputation for its research concerning cholera. Cholera is still a subject of research in the Department, and this reputation continues to the present. In 1969, the Board of Regents approved the establishment of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The number of graduate students and courses increased, and doctoral degrees in microbiology were now conferred directly by the University of Texas Medical Branch. Additional faculty were recruited and research activities were expanded.
Dr. Samuel Baron was appointed Chairman in 1975. Dr. Baron received his MD degree from New York University, and prior to his arrival at UTMB had been Head of the Section on Cellular Virology within the Laboratory of Viral Diseases of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda. His research interests centered on the role of interferon in controlling virus infections, and this became an important focus of research within the Department. Over the ensuing 21 years, the size of the faculty increased several fold, and the Department gained further recognition for its research. The numbers of graduate students more than doubled and there were many more postdoctoral trainees. During this period, Dr. Baron edited four editions of what became a classic textbook of medical microbiology. A Tissue Culture Core Facility, a Bacterial Fermentation Core, and a Flow Cytometry Core Laboratory were established. The Department served as a focal point on the UTMB campus for faculty with interests in immunology, and with rapid advances in this field, the name of the Department was changed in 1993 to Microbiology and Immunology.
Dr. Stanley M. Lemon held the Chair in Microbiology and Immunology from 1997 - 2000, at which time he assumed the role of Dean of Medicine for the University, a post he held until 2005. At that time, Dr. Lemon resigned to direct UTMB's Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, which has as one of its functions oversight of the Galveston National Laboratory. He received his MD degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and before coming to Galveston served as Professor of Medicine and Microbiology and Immunology, and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is known internationally for his research on the molecular virology of human hepatitis viruses. With his arrival at UTMB, the Department acquired additional laboratory space and added additional faculty with interests in molecular virology and cellular immunology. Interactions with the UTMB Center for Tropical Diseases were intensified, and the Department was significantly strengthened by greater involvement of faculty from other UTMB departments who shared a common passion for furthering understanding of infectious agents and the immune system.
Dr. David Niesel joined the faculty of the department of Microbiology and immunology in 1983. He was appointed Chair ad interim in 2000 when Dr. Stanley Lemon was named as Dean of the School of Medicine. He became the permanent chair of the department in 2004. His research interests centered on changes in gene expression in Streptococcus pneumoniae and detection of antibiotic resistance. His role as a PI with NASA led to three experimental packages flown on the space shuttle and International Space Station. He continued to hold the position of Vice Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Science during this time. The department expanded during his tenure and began adding high biocontainment faculty to support the opening of the Galveston National Laboratory in 2008. Dr. CJ Peters and Dr. Tom Geisbert joined the faculty during this time. The department’s research ranking among medical school departments rose into the top ten nationally in 2009 and has stayed in the top six medical school departments since that time. He left the chair position in 2014 when he became the Vice President and Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. From 2015-2018, he was Chief Research Officer at UTMB.
Dr. Scott Weaver became department chair in 2016. His research interests center on the arboviruses, including their ecology, evolution, pathogenesis, transmission by mosquito vectors, and vaccine development. Recently he has also worked extensively on coronaviruses. He is PI of several major external center grants including the CDC-funded Western Gulf Center of Excellence for Vector-borne Diseases, the NIH-funded West Africa Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, and the World Reference Center for Emerging Viruses and Arboviruses. During his tenure as chair, several outstanding new faculty have been recruited including Drs. Ricardo Rajsbaum, Vineet Menachery, Matthieu Gagnon, Sunhee Lee, Laura Dickson and Keer Sun.
As UTMB continues to expand its mission into the twenty-first century,
the Department is well poised to make additional contributions to the
control of infectious diseases, both through the education of students
of medicine who will treat these infections, and through the development
of new knowledge and the training of a future cadre of research