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Robert Austrian Lecture 

The ISPPD Board is pleased to announce Professor Katherine O'Brien as the
Robert Austrian Lecturer for ISPPD-9.

The Robert Austrian Lecture will take place at ISPPD-9 on
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 16:35.


Dr. Katherine (Kate) O’Brien has made outstanding contributions to scientific research that has fostered the development of interventions aimed at preventing death and suffering around the world. In recognition of her contributions, in 2011 she was awarded the U.S. Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering. This is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals establishing their independent research careers.

Dr. O’Brien earned her medical degree in 1988 from McGill University in Montreal, following her undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Trinity College, University of Toronto (1984).  She then undertook her residency training in Pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland from 1988 to 1991. After working in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on a child health projects she undertook her sub-specialty training in Pediatric Infectious Diseases (1992-1994) and earned her Masters of Public Health degree (1994), both at Johns Hopkins. She went on to become an Epidemiologic Intelligence Officer at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from 1995 to 1997, serving in the Bacterial Respiratory Diseases Branch and then joined the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) as a junior faculty member in 1998. Dr. O’Brien was promoted to Professor in 2010 at a relatively young age, because of her significant contributions to science and public health.  She was recently appointed as the Director of the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) at JHSPH.

For the past 15 years, Dr. O’Brien has undertaken projects to describe the pneumococcal epidemiology, disease burden, immunology, and ecology.  She led a phase III clinical trial of a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine among Apache and Navajo, the results of which contributed to the licensure of the vaccine.  Routine use of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine among these high risk American Indian populations resulted in dramatic reductions in pneumococcal disease, as it has in many populations around the world. 

In addition to the vaccine clinical trials and epidemiology studies on pneumococcal vaccine impact among American Indians, Dr. O’Brien’s work has largely focused on ensuring that the same level of credible evidence is available to support decisions and actions on pneumococcal vaccines for children around the world. Prior to the work of Dr. O’Brien and that of her colleagues, many developing countries did not believe that the pneumococcus was an important cause of disease in their countries. Dr. O’Brien played a leading role among a team of scientists who carefully documented the impact of pneumococcus and quantified the death and disability that the organism causes. This work has been foundational in the deliberations of many developing countries assessing the potential impact of pneumococcal vaccines in reducing death and illness from diseases caused by the bacterium, such as pneumonia and meningitis. She also played a central role in the PneumoADIP, a project whose objective was to accelerate the development and introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine in the routine immunizations programs of GAVI eligible countries, to reduce death and suffering from this disease. Dr. O’Brien’s work has directly influenced global policy on the use of pneumococcal vaccines including by providing the analyses on which decisions for serotype inclusion in vaccines are made. Currently, 38 GAVI countries have implemented pneumococcal vaccine in their routine immunization program and by 2015 it is projected that over 50 GAVI countries will have adopted this vaccine.

Dr. O’Brien has made numerous other scientific contributions concerning the epidemiology and prevention of various organisms that also cause pneumonia such as Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), respiratory syncytial virus and influenza virus.  Her work has resulted in over 130 original scientific publications, along with numerous textbook chapters, invited papers and commentaries. Because of her expertise she has been asked to serve on numerous national and international scientific committees including as a member of the World Health Organization Scientific Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE).

Dr. O’Brien’s work has been recognized through numerous awards. In addition to the award from President Obama in 2011, she was honored with the Sabin Young Investigator Award in 2008. This prestigious award recognizes young researchers who make outstanding contributions to the field of vaccinology. She was also awarded the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Mackel Award by the CDC for outstanding work investigating an epidemic of child deaths in Haiti, attributed to diethylene glycol poisoning.

Dr. O’Brien’s illustrious career accomplishments are furthered by her willingness and commitment to teach others.   She has mentored numerous young Faculty, Fellows, Medical Students and Public Health students from various institutions over the years. Many of these individuals are now in leadership positions in various institutions around the world and are making their own significant contributions to science.

In summary, Dr. O’Brien’s research and leadership have led to substantial developments in the biologic understanding of pneumococcus and the advances in public health efforts to prevent diseases this organism induces. She has been a true champion for bringing scientific evidence to the realm of public health decision-making, in ways that does not stall decisions, but instead provides a confident, firm foundation for accelerating the implementation of proven strategies to improve the health of children around the world.

Written by Professor Mathu Santosham
Department of International Health and Pediatrics, John Hopkins University 

Previous ISPPD Lecturers include:
Helena Mäkelä, 2002
Brian Greenwood, 2004
Mathu Santosham, 2006
Alexander Tomasz, 2008
Ron Dagan, 2010
Keith Klugman, 2012