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“I wanted to work on something nasty and dangerous”: honorary doctorate recipient Alan Barrett discusses how fighting diseases became his career

World Health Organization adviser, Professor Alan Barrett, has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science (Hon DSc) by the University of Warwick.

Professor Barrett’s career stared in 1975 when he gained a BSc in Microbiology & Virology at the University of Warwick, remaining at the University till 1983 when he gained a PhD in virology.

After gaining three degrees (BSc, MSc and PhD) he left the University to research yellow fever.

Speaking in an interview prior to receiving his honorary doctorate he said that he was spurred by the desire to work on ‘…something nasty and dangerous…”. It was while working for his postdoctoral fellowship at The London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene that he discovered that there were 12 vaccines for yellow fever but they were all different.

Following this discovery his knowledge and enthusiasm for the field was noticed by the World Health Organization which made him an adviser. He later moved to the United States where he is now Professor of Pathology at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, is an Elected Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and an Elected Fellow of the International Society for Vaccines.

In 2016 he was a member of the UK Medical Research Council Zika Expert Grant Review Panel and is currently a member of the Working Group on Zika Vaccine Target Product Profile. Talking about the Zika virus he said when it emerged in Brazil in 2015 it was ‘…all hands to the ship…” to try to work out what was happening and what could be done to stop the virus.

When asked whether scientists can protect humans from the virus Professor Barrett said: I think there is a pretty good chance we will have a vaccine against Zika virus. At the moment there is zero activity of the mosquito borne disease but it is cyclical and such viruses are expected to come back in five, seven, ten years with a vengeance.”

Looking back on his career he said: “There have been a lot of viruses I have worked on in my career and I think it is the training you have at the beginning that sets the tone.”

23 July 2018

Notes to Editors

Professor Alan Barrett - Hon DSc (Honorary Doctor of Science) Professor Barrett has made major research and health policy contributions to the World Health Organization’s approach to vaccines. He was chair of the Steering Committee on Vaccine Development for dengue and other flaviviruses (2004-2008) and has served on many WHO flavivirus vaccine working groups that prepare recommendations for the use of vaccines including : Working Group on Technical Specifications for Manufacture and Evaluation of Dengue Vaccines (2009-2011), Working Group on Revision of Recommendations to Assure the Quality, Safety and Efficacy of Yellow Fever Vaccine (2009-2010), Informal Technical Consultation on Vaccines and Vaccination Against Tick-borne Encephalitis (2010-2011), Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization Working Group on Yellow Fever Vaccine (2012-2013), Technical Expert Group of Dengue Vaccines in Late Stage Development (2012-2015), Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization Working Group on Japanese encephalitis Vaccine (2013-2014), Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization Working Group on Dengue Vaccines (2015-2016), Emerging Vaccine Framework Working Group (2015), and he is currently a member of the Working Group on Zika Vaccine Target Product Profile. He studied and researched for three degrees at Warwick (BSc, MSc. PhD) and has continued to maintain informal links with the virologists in what is now the University of Warwick’s School of Life Sciences. Among the many national and international committees he has served as Chair of the Scientific Advisory Panel of the Singapore Environmental Health Institute (2008-2015), and as member of: the inaugural NIH Vaccines Special Emphasis Panel (1998-2003), Scientific Advisory Group of the Paediatric Dengue Vaccine Initiative (2004-2007), Scientific Advisory Board of the STOP Dengue Translational Clinical Research Program of the National Medical Research Council, Singapore (2011-2013), UK Medical Research Council Zika Expert Grant Review Panel (2016), and Scientific Review of the Medical Research Council University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (2015).

For more information contact Nicola Jones, Media Relations Manager, University of Warwick N.Jones.1@warwick.ac.uk or 07920531221