Lifetime achievement

Physician honored for pioneering work in infectious disease

Dr. Sherwood L. Gorbach, M62, a pioneering researcher, educator, mentor and editor who has shaped the discipline of infectious diseases for more than 40 years, is the recipient of the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s 2007 Alexander Fleming Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Dr. Sherwood Gorbach © MARK MORELLI

Gorbach is a professor in the departments of Community Health and Family Medicine and Molecular Biology and Microbiology at the School of Medicine and a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

He is the fifth Tufts Medical School faculty member to receive this prestigious honor, formerly called the Bristol Award, in the 44 years since it has been conferred. The other Tufts recipients are Dr. Louis Weinstein, Dr. Sheldon M. Wolff, Dr. Gerald Keusch and Dr. John G. Bartlett. Gorbach received the award at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America in early October in San Diego.

Described as a remarkable physician whose ongoing contributions to the field of infectious diseases have been deep, diverse and profound, Gorbach graduated from Tufts School of Medicine in 1962. After completing his internal medicine residency at Cornell-Bellevue Medical Center, he returned to the Tufts-New England Medical Center for a fellowship in infectious diseases and a stint as chief medical resident. He also trained in parasitology and entomology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and in gastroenterology at the Hammersmith Royal Postgraduate Medical School in London. Back stateside, he held academic and hospital appointments in Chicago and Los Angeles before returning to Tufts, where he has worked and taught for the past 32 years.

As testament to his exceptional research skills, Gorbach has been continuously funded since 1969 as a principal investigator by the National Institutes of Health for studies in infectious diseases and nutrition.

Prominent among his many research breakthroughs was the seminal demonstration—through a series of meticulous studies carried out under difficult conditions in Calcutta in the 1960s—that enterotoxigenic E. coli was a major cause of life-threatening diarrheal disease in both adults and children, especially in the developing world. He also discovered that enterotoxigenic E. coli was the cause of infantile diarrhea in Chicago—the first time the organism had been linked to severe pediatric diarrheal disease in the industrialized world. He subsequently found that entertoxigenic E. coli was the major cause of travelers’ diarrhea in Mexico.

Along with colleagues John Bartlett and T-W Chang, he implicated the bacterium Clostridium difficile as the cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, described the first test for diagnosing the disease by the presence of the toxin and showed that the antibiotic vancomycin was an effective treatment.

Outside the research lab, Gorbach is beloved by his students at Tufts Medical School. He has been awarded the school’s Citation for Excellence in Teaching 12 times and has twice been honored with the Special Faculty Recognition Award, bestowed by the graduating class. As a mentor, he has influenced the careers of many leading figures in the field of infectious diseases. He has been the editor of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases since 1999.

Despite a career overflowing with laurels, Gorbach shows no sign of resting on any. He is the principal investigator on no fewer than three NIH research projects, and he continues to teach, mentor, publish, edit and contribute daily to the infectious diseases field he helped define over the past four decades. As one colleague noted, “He did it all, and he still does.”

This story appeared in the October 2007 issue of the Tufts Journal.