Janko Nikolich-Žugich, MD PhD is the 2021 Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year

“Dr.  Janko Nikolich-Žugich uses his skills and talents to advance the fields of aging and immunology and helped reduce the devastating effects of COVID-19 while building a body of scientific knowledge that can be used in other pandemics as they arise,” stated Joan Koerber-Walker, president & CEO of AZBio.  “For his groundbreaking work and deep commitment to finding answers to some of our most challenging scientific questions, he has been named the 2021 Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year.”

2021 Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year, Janko Nikolich-Žugich, MD, PhD, Department Head and Professor, Immunobiology, Co-Director, Arizona Center on Aging, Professor, Medicine, Professor, Nutritional Sciences, Professor, BIO5 Institute Professor, Genetics-GIDP, Professor, Neuroscience-GIDP at the University of Arizona. (Image courtesy of University of Arizona Health Sciences)

2021 Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year, Janko Nikolich-Žugich, MD, PhD, Department Head and Professor, Immunobiology, Co-Director, Arizona Center on Aging, Professor, Medicine, Professor, Nutritional Sciences, Professor, BIO5 Institute Professor, Genetics-GIDP, Professor, Neuroscience-GIDP at the University of Arizona. (Image courtesy of University of Arizona Health Sciences)

Solutions for Local and Global Health Challenges

Janko Nikolich-Žugich, MD, PhD, is an internationally recognized immunologist and gerontologist. In addition to important career-long contributions in his chosen fields, Dr. Nikolich-Žugich leveraged his expertise to develop one of the most accurate COVID-19antibody tests in the world, laying the foundation for a comprehensive statewide testing program.

Dr. Nikolich-Žugich moved to the University of Arizona in Tucson in 2008 to lead the Department of Immunobiology and the Arizona Center on Aging after a series of scientific leadership roles at other prestigious institutions. He is also a professor of immunobiology, medicine, nutritional sciences, genetics, and neuroscience, and a member of the BIO5 Institute.

Dr. Nikolich-Žugich has devoted his research to understanding the relationships between infection, inflammation, and immunity in the context of aging. He has published over 180 scientific papers and has earned many significant grant awards, including more than $73M in awards from the National institutes of Health (NIH) including a recent $4.5M MERIT award from the National Institutes on Aging (NIH) to study how stress and infection affect aging.

Through his work, Dr. Nikolich-Žugich has identified alterations in the immune system that may cause people to become more vulnerable to microbial pathogens as they get older. To improve quality of life and prevent disease, he works to correct defects in immunity with novel vaccination approaches and immune system rejuvenation treatments, and seeks to learn how common infectious, psychological, and physical stressors affect immunity and lifespan.

Tackling multiple scientific challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recognizing the unreliability of early antibody tests, he used his expertise in immunology to quickly develop a more accurate and effective test that was deployed across Arizona and available to first responders, healthcare workers, and other vulnerable populations in Arizona. As production capacity of the antibody test grew, it became available to 60,000 University of Arizona faculty, staff, and students, as well as the community at large.

His COVID-19 antibody test rapidly garnered worldwide attention for its high specificity and prompt implementation and has proven to be an important tool in identifying community exposure/reach and data related to individual and group immunity. Collective data produced through the testing program has informed the public health approaches, development of therapeutics for COVID-19 patients, and vaccines to guard against infection. Dr. Nikolich-Žugich also used his expertise in aging to identify why older adults are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Using data and state-of-the-art modeling, he is identifying mechanisms for susceptibility, and with that knowledge, is working to prevent COVID-19 morbidities and mortalities in these populations and explore possible novel treatments.

With the insights and tools Dr. Nikolich-Žugich helped develop over the past year, he has been asked to lead a new public/private partnership institute at the University of Arizona that will leverage the knowledge garnered during COVID-19 to predict and prepare for future global pandemics. The concept and reach of the institute will extend beyond what any single department or college could do on its own and will require partnerships across UA departments and colleges as well as universities, foundations, non-profit entities, government, and industries throughout the world. It will comprehensively address gaps in pandemic preparedness, including, but not limited to, the biomedical, micro-and immunobiological, economy, legal, psychosocial, behavioral, built and natural environment, and policy levels.

“Dr.  Janko Nikolich-Žugich uses his skills and talents to advance the fields of aging and immunology and helped reduce the devastating effects of COVID-19 while building a body of scientific knowledge that can be used in other pandemics as they arise,” stated Joan Koerber-Walker, president & CEO of AZBio.  “For his groundbreaking work and deep commitment to finding answers to some of our most challenging scientific questions, he has been named the 2021 Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year.”

 

About the AZBio Awards:

Each year, the AZBio Awards celebrate Arizona’s leading Educators, Innovators and Companies during Arizona Bioscience Week.  In 2021, the AZBio Awards will be celebrated as a 1-hour television special – Celebrating Life & Science  – which will premiere on ABC15 at 4 PM on October 3, 2021.  For more information and additional air dates and times visit https://www.azbio.org/celebrating-life-science-2021

About Arizona Bioscience Week

Each year Arizona Bioscience week is proclaimed at the Arizona Legislature and by the Governor.  Arizona Universities, business organizations and economic development agencies host a series of educational events, investor forums, and celebrations to engage the community in one of Arizona’s most important industries.  To access the full schedule of events, visit AZBio.org/AZBW2021.

About AZBio

Since 2003, the Arizona Bioindustry Association (AZBio) has supported life science innovation and life science innovators in Arizona.  A key component in Arizona’s life science ecosystem, AZBio is the only statewide organization exclusively focused on Arizona’s bioscience industry.  AZBio membership includes patient advocacy organizations, life science innovators, educators, healthcare partners and leading business organizations. AZBio works in partnership locally and nationally to advance health  innovation and to ensure that the value delivered from life-changing and life-saving innovation benefits people in Arizona and around the world.     Learn more at www.AZBio.org

Posted in AZBio News.