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UTHealth’s Palmer Beasley, M.D., epidemiologist and infectious disease expert, dies at 76

HOUSTON – (Aug. 27, 2012) - R. Palmer Beasley, M.D., epidemiologist and infectious disease expert, died on August 25 in Houston from advanced pancreatic cancer. In establishing the causative link between hepatitis B and liver cancer, Beasley was responsible for the first discovery of a virus that leads to a human cancer. His subsequent work determining the means of transmission for the virus and testing the vaccine has dramatically reduced worldwide suffering from Hepatitis B related liver disease. He was 76 at the time of his death.

Beasley was the Ashbel Smith Professor of Epidemiology at The University of Texas School of Public Health, a part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He also served as dean of the School of Public Health from 1987 to 2005.

A memorial service for Beasley is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, September 7 at the UT School of Public Health located at 1200 Herman Pressler Dr., Houston, TX 77030.

Much of Beasley’s research was conducted internationally in Taiwan and Vietnam. He was a member of the team that conducted the definitive efficacy trials of rubella vaccine in Taiwan from 1968 to 1971.

From 1972 through 1986, Beasley conducted the epidemiological studies of the hepatitis B virus discovering vertical transmission of the virus between mother and child.

Through extensive investigations, Beasley and his colleagues proved that hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a primary cause of liver cancer, and that a path of transmission is from mothers to infants during childbirth. As a result of his findings, vaccination programs around the world have prevented untold numbers of deaths.

"Dr. Beasley has saved countless lives from cirrhosis and liver cancer through his work on the epidemiology and prevention of hepatitis B," according to Herbert L. DuPont, M.D., director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at The University of Texas School of Public Health. "He is a giant in the field of infectious diseases."

Beasley said he had the rare good fortune to see through a complete problem, from establishing the epidemiology of transmission and the connection to liver cancer, to conducting definitive studies on immunization, to leading the effort for worldwide immunization. He also said that ultimately, HBV can be eradicated.

In 1992, the World Health Assembly designated the HBV vaccination, the seventh global vaccine at that time, was the only immunization to prevent a major human cancer. The vaccine is now used in more than 100 countries.

For his work on HBV, Beasley was awarded a series of prestigious international prizes including the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine, the Charles S. Mott GM Prize in Medicine, the Taiwan National Health Prize First Order, and the Prince Mahidol International Prize in Medicine.

During his tenure as dean, he established the UT School of Public Health regional campus system. The school grew to six regional campuses across Texas designed to meet the public health needs of each community. He founded the Center for Infectious Diseases (CITAR) where he continued his research on HBV and other infectious diseases and he started the Center for International Training and Research providing many international students with advanced public health training.

During his deanship he also served as president of the Association of Schools of Public Health. He led efforts to strengthen the accreditation criteria and procedures used by the Council on Education for Public Health, increase practica as part of MPH level education, establish credentialing for public health professionals, increase funding for the National Institutes of Health NIH and the Center for Disease Control and prevention (CDC), reform the CDC to include better funding for extramural investigators, and build closer ties with foreign schools of public health

After stepping down from the deanship in 2005, Beasley has devoted most of his time and effort to global health research and training.  In 2004, he created the Center for International Training and Research to provide a training focus for foreign students seeking graduate level proficiency related to HIV research with its initial focus on Vietnam. In 2007, he began a program of summer research internships for American students in international settings. 

During his career, Beasley educated a generation of public health researchers that has gone on to high-ranking roles in international health agencies and schools of public health.

R. Palmer Beasley was born in Glendale, CA on April 29, 1936. His father and grandfather were bankers and his mother was a lecturer. He knew his calling was medicine by the time he was in high school.

In 1958, Beasley received a degree in philosophy, focusing on causation, from Dartmouth College. After graduating from Harvard Medical School, Beasley received a master’s degree in preventive medicine at the University of Washington in 1969.

Beasley interned at King County Hospital in Seattle and from 1963 to 1965 he worked in the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the CDC in Atlanta. He returned to Seattle in 1965 to serve his residency at the University of Washington Hospital, and in 1967 he became a senior fellow in preventive medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

From 1969 to 1986, he served first as assistant professor, then associate professor, then research professor of preventive medicine in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Washington. Also in 1979, he became director of the American University Medical Center in Taipei, Taiwan.

He is survived by his wife, Lu-yu Hwang, M.D., professor of epidemiology at the UT School of Public Health and three children - Fletcher, Monica and Bernice.

Before his death, Dr. Beasley established three endowments in the School of Public Health – a faculty chair in infectious diseases/global health, a student travel award in international research and a faculty award in innovation. If you would like to make a gift in his memory, please click on the links or contact Lise Cameron, director of development at the UT School of Public Health at or 713-500-9059.

- Written by Shon Bower, Senior Communications Specialist at the UT School of Public Health

Jade Waddy
Media Contact: 713-500-3030