N O T H I N G L O S T I N T R A N S L A T I O N
AS A CHILD, he was always fascinated by bugs and toads, and watched Wild Kingdom, a popular television show that aired from 1963 to 1985. Wondering “How does this work?” served Michael Lairmore well on his path to becoming dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, a prolific author and an internationally recognized translational scientist.
Lairmore’s introduction to translational science began when, as a veterinary pathology resident, he learned that a virus initially associated with immunodeficient patients in San Francisco was classified in the same retrovirus family as a sheep retrovirus that he had been studying in the laboratory where he was completing his doctoral thesis.
“The human virus, which we now know as the AIDS virus, had the same characteristics as the sheep virus,” Lairmore said. “For decades retroviruses had been established as causes of disease in sheep, horses and cats. When infected with this virus, sheep exhibited lymphoid interstitial pneumonia, a common outcome of pediatric patients who develop AIDS.”
Lairmore’s experience and expertise grew to bridge multiple disciplines to address basic questions related to viral causes of disease, such as cancer, and the biology of retroviruses. He developed one of the first models of AIDS-associated pediatric pneumonia and discovered the first human T-cell leukemia/lymphotropic virus type 2 infection in native Indian populations in Central America – work that subsequently was recognized as an endemic infection among indigenous populations throughout North and South America.
Lairmore was among the first scientists recruited to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new Retrovirus Diseases Branch. He subsequently rose to international prominence as concurrent associate director for Basic Sciences and Shared Resources in the Comprehensive Cancer Center and the associate dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University, where he gained insights into university-wide resources that support translational sciences across disciplines.
When The Ohio State University joined the NIH clinical and translational science award consortium in 2006, Lairmore noticed a significant improvement in communications and programmatic activities across the schools of health science – medicine, veterinary medicine and pharmacy.
“Sitting down at the same table with representatives from all of the health science groups was a stimulus for many innovative developments, from new mentoring programs to original plans for shared resources,” he said.
Based on his translational research, Lairmore was elected as a member of the Institutes of Medicine of the National Academies of Science in 2010 and a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 2011. In the fall of 2011, he became dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Under Lairmore’s direction, translational science has become a significant component of the new strategic plan in the School of Veterinary Medicine.
“We are seeking ways to pair our basic sciences and field-based sciences in pursuit of problems related to human medicine,” he said. “Expanding on the ‘one health’ concept that was embedded within the vet school many decades ago, we conduct veterinary medicine clinical trials very much in parallel and synergy with studies at the School of Medicine to improve animal, human and environmental health and to address complex health problems.”
Incorporating multidisciplinary expertise across a wide range of research areas, from dysphasia and gastrointestinal issues to toxicology, improves health for all by increasing preclinical knowledge.
No longer actively engaged in scientific research, Lairmore is now focused on promoting the entire school’s efforts. “I’m still doing research, but it’s on people and programs.”