History of the Department

History1The Department of Microbiology at NYU School of Medicine was founded over one hundred and thirty years ago, in 1881, as the Bacteriology Laboratories. It underwent a number of name changes in the intervening years, reflecting the changes in emphasis in biomedical research, and was eventually named Department of Microbiology in 1942.

Through the years, a number of distinguished scientists have contributed to the success and reputation of the Department. William Park, who was also Director of the NY Health Department Laboratory and developed diphtheria immunization in the USA, was Chair in 1933-37, and was succeeded by Thomas Francis (1938-1941), who first isolated the influenza virus and played an important role in developing the national polio vaccination program in U.S.. Other Chairs included Colin MacLeod (1941-1956), who pioneered the concept that DNA was the cell’s genetic material, Alvin Pappenheimer (1956-1957) well known for his studies on diphtheria pathogenesis, Bernard Horecker (1958-1963) a distinguished biochemist, and Milton Salton (1964-1990) who studied the bacterial cell wall. Other well-known scientists who were active in the Department include, Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, the developers of the polio vaccine, Mark Adams, Efraim Racker, Jerry Hurwitz, and Werner Maas.

With the recent merger with the Department of Medical Parasitology, the Department of Microbiology now includes over 30 faculty members, with a variety of research interests ranging from the study of microbial pathogenesis (viral, bacterial, parasitic) to cancer and inflammation, regulation of gene expression in disease and stem cells, and growth factor signaling. This broad but complementary range of expertise promotes faculty interactions and collaborative projects.

While the main focus of the Department has been and still is basic research, we are not oblivious of the translational implications of our findings. Indeed, the leading drug for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, Remicade (an anti-TNFα monoclonal antibody), was developed by two of our faculty, Drs. Jan Vilcek and Junming Le in the 1990s, and other research findings by microbiology faculty are being translated into clinical applications.