UCSD Physician-Scientist Wins National Honor for Pediatric Research

Victor Nizet, MD

Victor Nizet, MD, a professor of pediatrics and pharmacy at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SPPSS), and a member of the medical staff at Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego, received the E. Mead Johnson Award for Research in Pediatrics at the 2008 Annual Meeting of Pediatric Academic Societies held in Honolulu.

Established in 1939, the award recognizes outstanding laboratory or clinical research achievements benefiting children and is considered the most prestigious award in pediatric research. Dr. Nizet was honored for his work deciphering the disease-producing mechanisms of common childhood bacterial pathogens and for increasing our understanding of immune system function.

In his career at UCSD, Dr. Nizet's laboratory program has explored the complex processes by which bacteria such as Streptococcus ("strep") and Staphylococcus ("staph") can survive and spread in the human host to produce serious infections such as sepsis and meningitis. Using molecular genetic techniques, his studies have uncovered the function of several individual bacterial molecules, known as "virulence factors", which contribute to disease development. These major scientific contributions have included identifying the genes encoding strep toxins capable of destroying human cells, understanding how bacteria penetrate the blood-brain barrier during meningitis, showing how strep deploy enzymes to escape entrapment by white blood cells, and discovering how the golden colored pigment of staph blocks immune clearance.

Dr. Nizet has further benefited from the rich scientific environment at UCSD to forge several productive collaborations at the interface between microbiology and human cell biology. Using infectious disease model systems and genetic manipulation of both pathogen and host, these avenues of investigation have revealed the important roles of antimicrobial peptides, white blood cell receptors, signal transduction pathways, and the control of gene transcription in our innate immune defense against bacterial infection.

Recently, Dr. Nizet was appointed Chief of a new and innovative Division of Pharmacology & Drug Discovery, jointly sponsored by the Department of Pediatrics and SSPPS. This new Division encompasses faculty in basic, translational, and clinical research, including the investigators and staff of the UCSD Pediatric Pharmacology Research Unit. This new program seeks to establish a pathway for drug development from initial discovery of novel compounds and targets through to early stage clinical trials, with a major focus on development of new anti-infective strategies. In an era of increasing resistance of bacteria to standard antibiotics, novel "outside-the-box" approaches to therapy are being studied, including blocking individual bacterial virulence factors, pharmacologically boosting the function of our innate immune system, and exploring the ocean bottom for natural products with antibiotic activity.

Dr. Nizet received his undergraduate education at Reed College and medical training at Stanford University School of Medicine, completed a Residency and Chief Residency in Pediatrics at Harvard University's Children's Hospital in Boston, and later a Fellowship in Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington's Children's Hospital in Seattle. Dr. Nizet joined the UCSD faculty in 1997 in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and has served as a consultant physician the staff of Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego. Dr. Nizet's previous honors include the Sidney Farber Award, the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society Young Investigator Award, the Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation Scholar Award, the American Heart Association Established Investigator Award, the American Lung Association Career Investigator Award, and election to the Society for Pediatric Research, the American Pediatric Society, and the American Society for Clinical Investigation.

"I am deeply honored to be chosen as a recipient of the E. Mead Johnson Award, which in fact directly recognizes the ingenuity of several talented graduate and postdoctoral trainees who have spearheaded the projects, as well as the outstanding commitment of UCSD to supporting leading edge medical research and collaboration", said Nizet. "I want also to acknowledge the educational opportunities provided to me by my parents and the unwavering support of my wife Christine".

Links: Nizet Laboratory at UCSD http://nizetlab.ucsd.edu