January 27, 2011 — Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and Richard Conti, director and chief executive officer of the Science Museum of Virginia, have named Kodi S. Ravichandran, Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor of Microbiology at the University of Virginia, as one of four Virginia Outstanding Scientists of 2011.
Ravichandran and fellow honorees will receive their awards at the Science Museum of Virginia's General Assembly Reception today at 6 p.m.
"I am honored to recognize Virginia's top science talents for 2011," McDonnell said. "Their creativity, contributions and dedication will make a better Virginia and a better America for all of us."
Chairman of the U.Va. School of Medicine's Department of Microbiology and director of the U.Va. Center for Cell Clearance, Ravichandran is internationally recognized for his groundbreaking research into the mechanisms of cell clearance.
When functioning properly, our bodies safely remove an estimated 1 million dying cells per second. Failure to promptly remove dying cells, however, is linked to chronic inflammation, developmental defects and such autoimmune diseases as lupus, arthritis and atherosclerosis.
Ravichandran's laboratory investigates all aspects of cell clearance, from how a dying cell "advertises" its presence to phagocytes (healthy cells that eat the dying ones), how phagocytes specifically recognize dead cells, and how a phagocyte digests the ingested cargo.
In the past year, Ravichandran's laboratory has identified a new type of "find me" signal released by dying cells, identified the cell membrane gate through which the find-me signals are released, defined the importance for an engulfment protein called ELMO1 in cell clearance and identified several new players within the phagocyte important for digesting the dying cells.
Ravichandran joins an elite group of previous award winners, including Dr. Francis S. Collins, current director of the National Institutes of Health. Ravichandran is the 11th U.Va. faculty member to receive the award since 1985.