MARTIN J. BLASER, MD, FIDSA, a world renowned researcher and clinician who has greatly advanced our knowledge of Helicobacter pylori and its role in human health and disease, is the recipient of IDSA’s 2014 Alexander Fleming Award for Lifetime Achievement. This award recognizes a career that reflects major contributions to the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge about infectious diseases. Dr. Blaser’s groundbreaking scientific work on H. pylori helped untangle its complex molecular behavior, illuminating its ability to not only harm, but also possibly benefit, human health. The conceptual framework he developed for how H. pylori interacts with humans—a dynamic equilibrium that allows bacterial persistence at low cost to the host—has become a general model for understanding the persistence of other co-adapted microbes. His work has led to exciting new research—by Dr. Blaser, a wide group of collaborators, and other investigators—on H. pylori and other indigenous microbiota, exploring the dynamic relationships between the human microbiome and health. A scientist of unusual breadth, Dr. Blaser has conducted research over more than 30 years spanning topics including Legionnaires’ disease, Campylobacter infections, Guillain-Barré syndrome, salmonellosis, plague, and anthrax, among others. By the 1980s, Dr. Blaser was already recognized as a leading expert on Campylobacter infection. Building on this expertise, he began investigating H. pylori, which was then suspected to cause ulcer disease and gastric cancer. Starting in 1990, Dr. Blaser, with his colleagues, made several substantive contributions in this area, including developing the first practical means for detecting H. pylori non-invasively, with blood tests still used today; demonstrating that the organism induces chronic inflammation in the stomach; showing a strong association with gastric cancer; and identifying and characterizing strains associated with higher risk of disease. This work linked infection with the cagA strain of H. pylori with increased risk of atrophic gastritis, intestinal metaplasia, and gastric cancer, compared with other strains. Further work by Dr. Blaser revealed a surprising inverse correlation between H. pylori carriage, especially with cagA strains, and the development of esophageal cancer, Barrett’s esophagus, and even childhood-onset asthma and other allergies. His studies of H. pylori throughout the world have revealed its declining prevalence in developed countries, through changes in socioeconomic status and antibiotic use, at the same time the incidence of many of these health conditions has been increasing. A growing body of research by Dr. Blaser and others is investigating the potential consequences of these trends for human health. His recent book, Missing Microbes, aims to educate the general public about the disappearing microbiota hypothesis and the implications regarding antibiotic use. Dr. Blaser spent nearly 13 years as the Frederick H. King Professor of Internal Medicine and chair of the Department of Medicine at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine and as chief of medical services at Bellevue Hospital Center and the NYU Langone Medical Center—during which he obtained funding for 14 endowed professorships, recruited more than 200 new faculty members, and began many new programs. In 2013, Dr. Blaser became the first Muriel G. and George W. Singer Professor of Translational Medicine at NYU and director of NYU’s newly established Human Microbiome Program. He is also a professor of microbiology and continues to serve as a staff physician at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York City.An IDSA Edward H. Kass Lecturer in 1998, Dr. Blaser served on the IDSA Board of Directors and was president of IDSA from 2005 to 2006. He has received numerous awards, including the IDSA Oswald Avery Award (1992), the American Public Health Association Wade Hampton Frost Award (2001), and the American Association for Cancer Research-American Cancer Society Award for Research Excellence in Cancer Epidemiology (2003). A member of the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts Sciences, he served on the Board of Scientific Counselors for the National Cancer Institute and is chair-elect of the Advisory Board for Clinical Research at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Blaser earned a medical degree from NYU in 1973; did an internship and residency at the University of Colorado School of Medicine; and was an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer in the Enteric Diseases Branch in the Bacterial Diseases Division, Center for Infectious Diseases, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before joining the faculty at the University of Colorado and then the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, where he also served as director of the Division of Infectious Diseases. Dr. Blaser’s contributions to the scientific literature include more than 500 original peer-reviewed papers. He has served on the editorial boards of numerous scientific journals and holds more than 20 U.S. patents related to his research. In addition to his scientific, clinical, and administrative work, Dr. Blaser has mentored numerous students, residents, and fellows, sharing his contagious curiosity for discovery and influencing many trainees to pursue their own successful academic research careers.A remarkable scientist who remains insatiable in his quest for knowledge, Dr. Blaser has made significant contributions to the field’s understanding of H. pylori, and more broadly, of the influence of the human microbiome on human health and disease. IDSA is proud to recognize Dr. Blaser with the 2014 Alexander Fleming Award for Lifetime Achievement.
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