National Academy of Sciences honors Prof. Bernard Roizman for microbiology research

Bernard Roizman, the Joseph Regenstein Distinguished Service Professor of Virology, has been awarded the 2017 Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology for his pivotal research on how herpes viruses replicate and cause disease.

Supported by the Waksman Foundation for Microbiology, the National Academy of Sciences gives the award biannually to recognize a major advance in the field of microbiology. The honor is accompanied by a $20,000 prize.

“I am deeply honored to be a recipient of an award bearing Selman Waksman’s name,” Roizman said. “His research laid the foundations for discoveries of potent antibiotics, and over the course of half a century his pioneering research saved billions of lives. He continues to be an inspiration for scientists involved in research to curb the spread of infectious agents.”

Over the past five decades, Roizman’s contributions to the scientific understanding of herpes viruses have helped to improve human health. His research first identified viral herpes genes and proteins, as well as the structure of viral DNA, and defined the principles of herpes simplex virus gene regulation. He also constructed the first recombinant virus specifically targeted to malignant cells.

Using biochemistry, novel genetic strategies and cell biology, Roizman’s ongoing research focuses on how the herpes simplex virus, which has fewer than 100 genes, can take over a much more complex human cell, which contains more than 20,000 genes. This led to the first engineered virus, which has been used to study and target lethal tumors in humans.

Roizman’s role as a mentor has extended his research beyond his lab, with dozens of graduate student and postdoctoral fellows energizing the field of virology in premier universities in the United States, Europe and Asia.

A member of the University faculty since 1965, Roizman was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1979 and to the National Academy of Medicine in 2001. He is a foreign associate of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and the recipient of honorary degrees in the United States, France, Italy and Spain.

He will be honored April 30 during the National Academy of Sciences’ 154th annual meeting.

This article first appeared in Science Life.