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January 19, 2012

UVA infectious disease expert named Va. Outstanding Scientist

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The University of Virginia Health System’s Richard L. Guerrant, MD, an infectious disease expert who has waged an international campaign against deadly childhood diarrhea, has been honored as one of Virginia’s Outstanding Scientists for 2012 by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

“It’s an amazing honor, especially for a Virginia native,” said Guerrant, who grew up in Roanoke. “This is very special for me, as a Virginian, to be honored by my native state.”

In announcing this year’s three Outstanding Scientists on Wednesday, McDonnell called them “Virginia’s top science talents for 2012” and said, “Their creativity, contributions and dedication will make a better Virginia and a better America for all of us.”

Helping children around the world

Guerrant has been a trailblazer in the battle against infectious childhood diarrhea, one of the world’s most daunting medical problems. More than 3,000 children die from it every day, he said, and 30 percent of children in developing countries suffer repeated bouts of it that stunt their growth and cognitive development. He estimates that, on average, the condition costs affected children 10 IQ points.

Guerrant and William Petri Jr., MD, a colleague at the UVA School of Medicine, are leading the largest-ever investigation into how malnutrition and intestinal infections lead to serious lifelong physical and mental problems in children in developing countries. Their five-year study has been funded by a $30 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Guerrant, the founder and director of the Center for Global Health at the UVA School of Medicine, is also working to establish a network of such centers at leading institutions in the United States and abroad.

Modestly calling himself “just a diarrhea doc,” Guerrant was eager to share credit for his work with his colleagues, both at UVA and in Brazil, where he has worked tirelessly for more than 30 years. “This is not an award for me,” he said of the Outstanding Scientist recognition. “It’s an award for an amazing group of people I’ve been privileged to work with.”

Guerrant is the Thomas H. Hunter Professor of International Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health at UVA. His previous accolades include the Walter Reed Medal, the highest honor from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. In 2010, UVA presented him with the Thomas Jefferson Award, its highest faculty honor.


Distinguished company

Guerrant is the 12th UVA faculty member to be named a Virginia Outstanding Scientist since 1985. Last year McDonnell recognized Kodi S. Ravichandran, UVA’s Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor of Microbiology.

Guerrant and this year’s other winners will receive their awards at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, at the Science Museum of Virginia’s General Assembly Reception in Richmond.

FOR REPORTERS: Guerrant will be available for telephone interviews between 10 and 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 19. To schedule an interview, please contact Josh Barney at 434.243.1988 or .

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