Three of the University of Virginia's most prominent faculty researchers – infectious diseases physician Dr. Michael M. Scheld, materials science engineer Haydn Wadley and cell biologist Judith White – have been selected as its 2012 Distinguished Scientists.
The U.Va. Distinguished Scientist Awards, created in 2006 by the Office of the Vice President for Research, annually honor faculty members who have made extensive and influential contributions in the sciences, medicine or engineering during their careers at U.Va.
Scheld, Wadley and White were honored in July during a reception and dinner at the Colonnade Club.
"These scientists have created new paths in their respective fields, with impact on the world," Thomas C. Skalak, vice president for research, said. "From the mysteries of the living cell to sophisticated design of engineered materials to treating infectious diseases, they have moved into territories that had never been explored before. In doing so, they've provided a role model for the next generation of scientists."
Nominations for the Distinguished Scientist Award are accepted each year from U.Va. department chairs and faculty. A panel of faculty peers judges the nominees based on their publications, awards and comments from peers outside the University regarding quality and societal impact of their research. They are chosen for distinguishing U.Va. through a significant body of nationally and internationally recognized research conducted at the University over a lengthy period of time. The winners each receive a $10,000 grant to enhance their research activities.
Dr. Michael M. Scheld, Bayer-Gerald L. Mandell Professor of Infectious Diseases
Scheld is recognized for his innovative research in several areas of infectious diseases, including meningitis, for which he is regarded as an international authority. Some of his meningitis research led to interventions that are now routinely saving the lives and the hearing of children.
He also has made important dogma-reversing contributions to the understanding of bacterial pathogenisis in anthrax, sepsis and endocarditis (heart inflammation). He recently turned to a new area of investigation regarding immune protection in sepsis.
Scheld did his internship, residency and fellowship in infectious diseases at U.Va. and joined the School of Medicine faculty in 1979. He is the Bayer-Gerald L. Mandell Professor of Infectious Diseases, and is a professor of medicine, clinical professor of neurosurgery and director of the Pfizer Initiative in International Health.
Dr. Steven DeKosky, dean of the School of Medicine, noted that Scheld's distinguished career has included both translational lab studies and field observations that have led to clinical interventions.
"His research has left a lasting and important imprint on areas as diverse as the management of sepsis, virulence factors of bacterial pathogens and the mechanisms of host and pathogen interactions," DeKosky said. "His international research training program has nurtured the skills for scientists who return to their home countries to study the infectious diseases affecting their communities. Mike Scheld is truly a 'physician scientist' and is a most deserved recipient of this important institutional award."
Wadley is known for both broad and deep scientific contributions and scholarship that span fundamental materials research and materials design, and materials synthesis and processing. He has published more than 400 technical papers, which have been cited nearly 4,300 times in the archival literature.
His work merges science and engineering, using fundamental physics principles to guide the design and development of sophisticated processing and fabrication of materials for use in engineering, such as blast- and impact-resistant materials for defense against improvised explosive devices.
Wadley has served as president of the former U.Va. Patent Foundation, now UVa Innovation, and is a 15-year member of the Defense Sciences Research Council of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for which he has served as both associate chair and chair. The council, made up of 16 eminent scientists, engineers and physicians, identifies major areas for new scientific inquiry for transformational advances to national security, such as exploitation of space, new approaches to highly functional prostheses for injured service members and mitigation of blast injuries, among others.
"Professor Wadley's scientific contributions, scholarship and service to his profession, the University and the nation are extraordinary," said James H. Aylor, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. "Since he arrived at U.Va. 16 years ago as professor and senior associate dean for research, he has been a model for productivity, leading research that spans fundamental materials research and materials design and materials synthesis and processing."
Wadley's research and innovation have resulted in 18 patents, which have led to the creation of two Charlottesville companies, Directed Vapor Technologies Inc. and Cellular Materials International Inc., and to intellectual property licensing by U.Va. to the commercial sector.
Judith White, Professor of Cell Biology
White is known for fundamental and original contributions to the understanding of the mechanisms by which viruses enter cells, and for significant contributions to the understanding of membrane fusion – the physical or chemical process by which cell membranes adhere to viruses or parasites.
William Petri, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health, described her discoveries as "seminal" and the basis for the development of anti-HIV and other anti-viral therapies.
White's current work is focused on understanding how the ebola virus enters cells.
"Dr. White established her international reputation by investigating viral entry into host cells, which led to the development of a general model of viral membrane fusion and to potential targets for antiviral medications – most notably the anti-HIV drug Fuzeon," DeKosky said. "She applied this knowledge to eukaryotes, making novel insights into the mechanism of egg-sperm fusion. Along the way, she discovered the ADAM family of membrane proteins, which are of central importance to development, cell signaling and inflammation. More recently, she has made significant advances in ebola virus entry to host cells.
"Add to that a distinguished track record as a mentor of students and fellow faculty, and it is obvious that Judy White is one of our institution's finest scientists."
Barry Gumbiner, chair of the Department of Cell Biology, noted that any one of White's discoveries "would be a significant accomplishment for a lifelong career; together they represent an extraordinary achievement for one scientist."
– by Fariss Samarrai