UTHealth prof elected to top leadership positions of infectious diseases society

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Barbara E. Murray, M.D.<br>UTHealth Infectious Diseases<br>Division Director

Barbara E. Murray, M.D.
UTHealth Infectious Diseases
Division Director

HOUSTON - (Nov. 15, 2011) - Barbara E. Murray, M.D., professor and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School, has been elected to the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)

Founded in 1963, the society has almost 10,000 members and its purpose is to improve the health of individuals, communities and society by promoting excellence in patient care, education, research, public health and prevention of infectious diseases.

Murray’s election was recently announced at the 49th Annual Meeting of the IDSA in Boston. She was voted to serve four consecutive one-year stints beginning with vice president, then president-elect, then president starting in 2013 and finally past-president.

It may be hard to believe now but, Murray said, it was not that long ago when some thought that infectious disease was a fading specialty of medicine. The commercialization of penicillin in the 1940s helped put the brakes on many infectious diseases of the time. Other antibiotics were soon developed.

But, the war on infectious diseases was far from over. Old syndromes have since been recognized as being caused by infectious agents (such as Legionnaires’ disease, stomach ulcers and some cancers), and new syndromes, like adult acquired immunodeficiency due to HIV, have emerged.  And, some disease-causing bacteria have developed a resistance to antibiotics.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria or superbugs are a significant health risk these days. Due in part to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, diseases tied to bacteria are making a comeback. They are commonly called superbugs, including the well-known “MRSA” (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) that has struck many, including major sporting teams, in the last decade.

“I could see the bacterial disease problem returning to the days before the 1940s,” Murray said. “We will need new vaccines and new strategies to prevent or treat these microorganisms”

Murray and colleagues in the UTHealth Division of Infectious Diseases are making progress in identifying the mechanisms responsible for antibiotic resistance and what makes some people more susceptible to infections. Their work could lead to new treatments.

“Dr. Barbara Murray has distinguished herself in the field of infectious diseases, and the Medical School is most fortunate to count her among our faculty,” said Giuseppe Colasurdo, M.D., president ad interim of UTHealth and dean of the UTHealth Medical School.

The 13 faculty members and 51 other personnel in Murray’s division are also conducting innovative research on the study of fungi, travel medicine, HIV, infections of the central nervous system and diarrheal diseases. Division research was supported by about $3.9 million in grants and contracts between Sept. 1, 2010 and Aug. 31, 2011.

“Dr. Barbara Murray has been a national leader on antibiotic resistance and microbiology and the importance of enterococci as human pathogens,” said Herbert DuPont, M.D., the Mary W. Kelsey Distinguished Professor in the Medical Sciences and director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at The University of Texas School of Public Health, a part of UTHealth.

DuPont, who was IDSA president from 1989 to 1990, added, “She has recruited leaders in this field to her institution and the UTHealth Medical School's Division of Infectious Diseases is an international resource for the growing problem of antibiotic resistance that costs the U.S. more than $30 billion a year.”

“During her time as president she will have the opportunity to help lead our country in important areas designed to control emerging infectious diseases,” DuPont said.

Growing up, Murray experienced the impact of infectious disease firsthand. At the age of 4, she was hospitalized for polio. Later as a medical student, she traveled to Costa Rica, Guatemala and Colombia, where she observed that doctors spent much of their time treating communicable diseases.

Murray graduated with a degree in mathematics cum laude from Rice University in 1969 and was first in her graduating class from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas in 1973.  She spent six years training in internal medicine and infectious diseases at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. She later spent six months at the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences in Bangkok, Thailand.

Murray joined the UTHealth Medical School faculty in 1980 and is now the director of the Center for the Study of Emerging and Re-emerging Pathogens and holder of the J. Ralph Meadows Professorship in Internal Medicine. She has been the director of the Infectious Diseases Division since 1995.

Rob Cahill
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