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University of Iowa News Release


Dec. 21, 2007

Ida Beam Visiting Professor To Discuss Pandemic Flu Jan. 9

A leading avian influenza expert and longtime proponent of the need for pandemic preparedness will visit the University of Iowa Jan. 9 as an Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor.

Robert Webster, Ph.D., is the Rose Marie Thomas Chair at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds. He will present a free, public lecture, "H5N1 Influenza: Will it Achieve Pandemic Status?" at noon on Jan. 9, in the Prem Sahai Auditorium (Room 1110A) of the Medical Education Research Facility (MERF). A public reception in the MERF atrium will follow the lecture.

Webster, an expert in the structure and function of influenza virus proteins and the development of new vaccines and antiviral drugs, first started working on influenza in the early 1960s. One of his key discoveries was the link between human flu and avian flu. He and his colleagues were the first to suggest that pandemic strains of flu arise by a reassortment of genetic segments (antigenic shift) between viruses in humans and lower animals, and not by mutations (antigenic drift) in annual human strains. Webster and colleague Graeme Laver also developed a method for separating influenza virus into its various components, which allowed them to create the first subunit influenza vaccine in 1966. Influenza vaccines based on virus subunits are much safer than vaccines that use intact virus.

Webster earned a Ph.D. in 1962 at the Australian National University in Canberra. He joined the faculty of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in 1968 and has remained there ever since. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of London, the Royal Society of Medicine and the Royal Society of New Zealand, and he is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. In 2002, he was awarded the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Infectious Diseases Research.

Webster's visit is co-sponsored by the Department of Microbiology and the Helen C. Levitt Center for Virology and Viral Pathogenesis.

The UI established the Ida Cordelia Beam Distinguished Visiting Professorships Program in 1978-79 based on a bequest from the late Ida Beam of Vinton, Iowa, who willed her family farm to the UI Foundation. The proceeds from the farm's sale enabled the UI to establish a fund that brings top scholars in a variety of fields to the university for lectures and discussions.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all UI-sponsored events. If you are a person with disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate, please contact Wendy Maury at least four days in advance at 319-335-8021 or

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACT: Jennifer Brown, 319-335-9917