May 8, 2012 — John C. Herr, professor of cell biology and biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia and director of U.Va.'s Center for Research in Contraceptive and Reproductive Health, has been selected to receive the University of Iowa's 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award. Herr earned his doctorate there in 1978.
The honor recognizes alumni who reflect the highest standard of achievement and service that was nurtured at the University of Iowa. It represents acknowledgement of the outstanding work of individuals and their contribution to their professions and society as a whole.
Herr is being recognized as a basic scientist as well as a translational science researcher. Herr's basic research characterized previously unknown genes and proteins in the human genome that are involved in sperm and egg development, particularly playing a role in fertilization.
He also translated these discoveries into useful product concepts. Being recognized is the discovery of the sperm specific protein SP-10 and its use as a biomarker for quantitating sperm.
Herr has received four issued U.S. patents on his "SpermCheck" technology, which he patented through the former U.Va. Patent Foundation, now called U.Va. Innovation. The foundation licensed the patented technology to U.Va. biotechnology start-up ContraVac Inc., founded by Herr, to commercialize the discoveries and bring associated products to the public. The FDA-approved product SpermCheck Fertility is now available on the family planning shelves of drug stores for monitoring male infertility.
Herr is also recognized for the discovery of kinase enzymes unique to the testis and their use as targets for male contraceptive drugs, and for identifying genes encoding egg cell surface proteins with applications in female contraception and cancer. Herr's lab has named more than 35 genes in the human genome that are involved in the development of sperm and eggs.
The University of Iowa Alumni Association presents awards in five categories: achievement, service, faculty/staff, young alumni and friend of the university. The achievement award, which Herr will receive, has been bestowed on Pulitzer Prize winners, leaders of industry, medicine, public service, athletics and the arts. Past recipients include scientist James Van Allen, journalist Tom Brokaw and authors Wallace Stegner and John Irving.
Herr will receive the award on June 9 in Iowa City, Iowa.