GALVESTON, Texas — Pioneering virologist Frederick A. Murphy, one of the scientists who first identified the Ebola and Marburg viruses, has joined the faculty of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Murphy comes to UTMB from the University of California at Davis, where he was formerly dean of the school of veterinary medicine and Distinguished Professor of Virology. At UTMB he has been named both professor of pathology and McLaughlin Professor in Residence, a position funded by the James W. McLaughlin Endowment, which supports training related to research in infectious disease and immunity.

“Every tribe needs a sage, and Fred Murphy is the new sage of the physicians and scientists at UTMB whose focus is the creation of new knowledge regarding infectious disease,” said David Walker, chairman of UTMB’s pathology department and executive director of the UTMB Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases. “His deep insight and ability to frame novel, important ideas are unique. His creativity and skills in synthesizing concepts and asking the right questions are remarkable. His wisdom will be a guiding force.”

Murphy’s first electron micrograph of the Ebola virus, made in 1976 when he was chief of viral pathology for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is now one of the iconic images of modern infectious disease research. His groundbreaking studies of the highly lethal Ebola and Marburg viruses led to his proposal that the two structurally similar pathogens be placed into a new virus family called the Filoviridae, after their spaghetti-like filamentous forms.

Murphy also helped classify and name two other virus families: the family Arenaviridae (which includes the virus that causes Lassa fever) and the family Bunyaviridae (which includes hantaviruses and Rift Valley fever virus).

As director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases at CDC, Murphy worked to develop programs in such areas as child care health, hepatitis B control, and the effort to identify the virus that causes hepatitis C. He also contributed to CDC’s early programs for prevention and control of HIV/AIDS.

“In the 1980s, when many medical scientists thought infectious diseases had been effectively conquered, Dr. Murphy as director of the CDC’s National Center for Infectious Diseases helped warn our country of the dangers posed by new, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases,” said Dr. Stanley M. Lemon, director of UTMB’s Institute for Human Infections and Immunity (IHII).  “His prescience was borne out by subsequent outbreaks of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, West Nile encephalitis, SARS and avian influenza.”

Murphy noted that almost all of the new human diseases that have emerged over the last 15 years are “zoonotic,” meaning that they circulated among animals before jumping to humans. He said controlling them requires a much broader effort than that needed for pathogens that circulate only among people.

“To prevent and control outbreaks of these diseases, you have to know about all the factors that lead to emergence—the molecular biology of the viruses themselves, the natural history and ecology of reservoir hosts and vectors like rodents and mosquitoes, environmental changes, people and society, and of course the human host, pathology and immunology,” Murphy said. “Diverse areas of expertise are needed to investigate the zoonotic diseases, and this is one of UTMB’s emerging claims to fame.”

The breadth of UTMB’s own infectious disease programs under the CBEID and the IHII, along with its collaborations with other institutions under the Western Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, make the university an ideal place for the kind of wide-ranging research needed to counter the infectious threats of the future, according to Murphy.

“With what has happened already, and the promise of what’s going to happen, especially with the new lab, it’s very exciting to be here,” Murphy said, referring to the seven-story $167 million Galveston National Laboratory, now under construction.
The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
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