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Infectious Disease Experts and Information for Media

Research into infectious disease has been at the core of the St. Jude scientific enterprise since the hospital’s inception in 1968. This is because cancer patients, with their compromised immune systems, are extremely prone to infection – and can sometimes die of infections rather than their cancer. From this early mission, St. Jude investigators have expanded their expertise to increase their understanding of various bacterial and viral agents, particularly influenza. St. Jude scientists are now world-leading experts on numerous pathogens, and many of our investigators played an essential role in understanding and educating about the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Infectious Disease Experts

  • Diego R. Hijano, MD, MSc

    Diego Hijano, MD, MSc, St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases, created, developed and sustains a program for COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing that follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Tennessee Department of Health guidelines. The program is compliant with The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations and fits the specific needs, values and culture of St. Jude. As the primary investigator for the St. Jude study for patients with COVID-19, he also trained, coordinated and led 14 volunteers to investigate cases and conduct contact tracing at St Jude. He is the deputy medical director of Occupational Health and the COVID-19 Case Investigation & Contact Tracing Lead at St. Jude.

  • Octavio Ramilo, MD

    Octavio Ramilo, MD, St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases chair, researches the pathogenesis, effects and treatment of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV is a common and highly contagious virus that especially affects infants and young children. As a clinician-scientist, Ramilo explores the long-term impact of early RSV infections on the development of children’s immune systems and how they will respond to other infections as they grow. He is heavily involved in translational and clinical research aimed at understanding the host immune response to infections and vaccines using genomics and system analysis tools.

  • Stacey L. Schultz-Cherry, PhD

    Stacey Schultz-Cherry, PhD, World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds deputy director, U.S. Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance co-director, is an expert in infectious diseases. She studies how influenza viruses and astroviruses (gastrointestinal) make people sick, as well as microbial co-infections, novel vaccines and therapeutics. Her recent work has investigated how factors such as obesity can make vaccines less protective, infections more severe and treatments less effective. Schultz-Cherry can provide information associated with increased efficacy in flu vaccines and new research surrounding global initiatives for better treatments of more vulnerable populations. She is an Associate Dean of Students at the St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and a member of the St. Jude Department of Host-Microbe Interactions

  • Paul G. Thomas, PhD

    Paul Thomas, PhD, St. Jude Departments of Immunology and Host-Microbe Interactions, studies the immune system. Specifically, he is an expert in innate and adaptive immunity to influenza, T cell receptor types in infectious and cancerous states and influenza-associated, immune-induced healing responses and pathology. He is a principal investigator of an international study to understand how someone’s first exposure to flu, whether by infection or vaccine, can affect their immune responses for the rest of their lives. Thomas can provide insight into what shapes the immune response to the virus throughout one’s lifetime and comment on better methods to treat influenza. Thomas has also led research into how the immune system responds to COVID-19.

  • Steven M. Varga, PhD

    Steven Varga, PhD, St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases, serves as Dean of the St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. With expertise in microbiology, immunology and pathology, he leads an independent research program focusing on virus-specific T lymphocytes mediating immunity and immunopathology during viral infections, with a particular focus on respiratory viruses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza A virus, and SARS-CoV-2. Varga’s other research interests include innate and adaptive immunity to RSV, vaccine development, the pathogenesis of viral co-infections and cancer immunotherapy.

  • Richard Webby, PhD

    Richard Webby, PhD, St. Jude Department of Host-Microbe Interactions, directs the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds. He is an internationally recognized expert on influenza, specifically the group of viruses that led to the emergence of the 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus. Webby can provide information on novel vaccine approaches, virus ecology, virus pathogenicity and determinants of host susceptibility to viruses.