UW-Madison flu expert recognized for research excellence

February 3, 2014 By Nik Hawkins

Flu lab and Kawaoka

Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine, talks with a group of media representatives during a tour of the Influenza Research Institute in 2013.

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Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor of virology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine known for his groundbreaking work on influenza, has received the 2014 Excellence in Research Award from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC).

The award honors those who demonstrate excellence in original research, leadership in the scientific community, and mentoring in any veterinary medical discipline. Selected by a committee of peers, the recipient is designated as the outstanding veterinary medical researcher of the year.

Dr. Kawaoka’s research demonstrates the important impact veterinarians can make on global health, benefitting both animals and humans,” says Dean Mark D. Markel. “His contributions to our understanding of how viruses mutate will hopefully enable the scientific community to combat the next pandemic viral outbreak more effectively.”

Kawaoka focuses his work on better understanding naturally occurring viruses to help government and health agencies improve measures for protecting the population. He achieved global attention in 2011 when he and an international team of researchers showed that the avian H5N1 influenza virus could become transmissible in mammals after just a few genetic mutations.

In 2013, Kawaoka and his team collaborated with the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Japan to conduct a genetic analysis of the avian H7N9 flu virus, which has been linked to several deaths in China. The analysis revealed that the virus can evolve and adapt to human cells, prompting concerns about its potential to launch a global flu pandemic. That same year he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences as a foreign associate.

He has mentored many students and published in some of the world’s foremost scientific journals, including Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cell, Science, and many others.

Kawoaka earned his doctoral degree from Hokkaido University, and he also holds a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries.