It is with sadness and great respect that we report on Dr. Albert Z. Kapikian, MD, a pioneer in the field of virology, who passed away on February 24, 2014 at the age of 83.
Dr. Kapikian is credited as being the discoverer of Norwalk virus (the archetypal human norovirus), when in 1972 he and others at the National Institutes of Health visualized the virus particles for the first time using immune electron microscopy and demonstrated the virus’s relationship with the disease. That influential journal article is freely accessible here. A year later, he and his colleagues would identify the virus that causes Hepatitis A, with the visualization of rotavirus not long thereafter. His dedicated research into the identification of these viruses earned him recognition as “the father of human gastroenteritis virus research” and his extensive body of work would pave the way for many scientists in the field, including those in the NoroCORE Collaborative.
During his career, Dr. Kapikian became keenly interested in the transmission and epidemiology of rotavirus, the major cause of gastrointestinal illness in young children, particularly in developing nations. He dedicated almost 25 years to the study of the virus and the development of a safe, effective vaccine, which was licensed for administration in the U.S. in 1998. He continued to work on additional rotavirus vaccines that have been licensed for use in China, India and Brazil, and his dedication has and undoubtedly will save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children around the world.
Over the course of his life, Dr. Kapikian was also involved in the publication of over 400 scientific papers and he earned numerous awards for his contributions to human medicine, including the 2011 Maurice Hilleman/Merck Award and the Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal Awardin 2005. Dr. Kapikian graduated from Cornell University Medical College in 1956 and the next year joined NIH as a commissioned public health officer. In 1967 he was appointed chief of the epidemiology section of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a position he held for 45 years.
Dr. Kapikian was widely known as a kind, enthusiastic, and generous person, and he will be deeply missed by his peers.