Thursday 27 February 2014

Vale Dr. Albert Z Kapikian

Others will no doubt write more cogently and personally than I can about Dr Kapikian's >56-years of medical and virology expertise, skills, discoveries and personality but I wanted to make a just a few quick comments on his passing in relation to a group of viruses for which he is not as often associated; the rhinoviruses (RV).

Dr Kapikian was an expert with electron microscopy (EM), learning the use of it from June Almeida at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, University of London in 1970. His use of immune EM led him to discover the viruses we now call noroviruses in 1972; a major cause of gastroenteritis. He also found instances of rotavirus (RoV) in the United States and went on to lead the development of an oral vaccine to prevent the serious diarrhoeal disease associated with infection by RoVs. 

He has over 200 publications listed on PubMED.

I exchanged a couple of eMails with him in 2009 (which Al graciously replied too in excellent detail) but never got to meet him, much to my disappointment. My first knowledge of him was from my work with rhinoviruses. While these were not his research focus, he Chaired the group that published the 1st (and 2nd in 1972 and co-authored the 3rd in 1987) formal description in 1967. This report gave the largest group of distinct respiratory viruses their 100 names. He helped to bring together RV researchers and their often identical isolates from around the globe and helped to create the 1 key to link them all in a single unifying scheme; HRV-1 to HRV-100. Having had a tiny role in doing that for the latest species, RV-C, I can more than imagine how much of a challenge that must have been at the time. Dr Kapikian also used his immune EM expertise to visualize the rhinoviruses in 1972.

That Dr Kapikian is so highly regarded, described as warm-hearted and the smartest and nicest guy in the room, speak volumes of him as a human. His track speaks to his role as a leader and medical virologist of huge impact.

Another trailblazer has moved on.

Dr Albert Z. Kapikian, Chief, Epidemiology Section, Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health in the United States, died 24-Feb at 86-years of age.


  1. National Institutes of Health statement on the death of Dr Albert Z Kapikian
  2. Seeing the new calicivirus: norovirus
  3. Context for the discovery of norovirus
  4. Sabin Gold Medal
  5. Dr Kapikian's publication list on PubMED
  6. NIH on the Sabin medal
  7. Children's Vaccine Initiative Pasteur award summary at NIH
  8. Alumni Award of Distinction from Weill Cornell Medical College where Dr Kapikian got his MD
  9. Awarded Fellowship of The American Academy of Microbiology
  10. Visualising rhinoviruses by immune electron microscopy
  11. First rhinovirus numbering system report
  12. A collaborative report: rhinoviruses--extension of the numbering system from 89 to 100.
  13. A collaborative report: Rhinoviruses-extension of the numbering system

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