KING K. HOLMES, MD, PhD, FIDSA, a world leader dedicating more than 45 years to research on the epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STI), and other infectious diseases, is the recipient of IDSA’s 2013 Alexander Fleming Award for Lifetime Achievement. This award recognizes a career that reflects major contributions to the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge about infectious diseases.
While there are many leaders today in the field of STIs, Dr. Holmes virtually created the modern era of STI prevention and control. The older field was classified as “venereology,” and included five classical venereal diseases. He conceptually shifted the field from one that was focused on these five infectious diseases to a wide variety of infections that caused serious complications, could disseminate throughout the body, and shared a sexual mode of transmission. The impact of this paradigm shift in thinking created a whole new field and viewpoint. It became possible to think of a broader array of pathogens and their diverse impact on human reproductive health, cancer, and systemic disease. His contributions paved the way for recognizing the impact of STIs on many organ systems in clinical medicines, and public health.
With his colleagues, Dr. Holmes discovered the microbial etiologies of over 15 different disease syndromes, including nongonococcal and post gonococcal urethritis and epididymitis in men; the sexually acquired proctitis, proctocolitis, and enteritis syndromes in MSM; the urethral syndrome, vaginal infection syndromes, mucopurulent cervicitis, endometritis, salpingitis, ectopic pregnancy, tubal infertility, chorioamionitis and preterm delivery in women; STI-related arthritis syndromes in men and women; and helped define the role of STIs in complications of sexual assault, and in hepatitis and anal and genital cancers. He developed and evaluated clinical criteria and diagnostic tests to recognize most of these syndromes and new pathogens. He also pioneered the identification of optimal antimicrobial therapy and other forms of prevention for most of these diseases and syndromes. In short, he established the evidence base for much of this important area of ID—evidence that has been used widely by IDSA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization (WHO) in developing their guidelines for the diagnosis and management of STIs.
Dr. Holmes has long recognized that STIs pose a disproportionate burden in the developing world as well as among disadvantaged populations domestically. His close affiliation with WHO has guided the creation of syndromic guidelines for treatment of STIs in the developing world and the improvement of antimicrobial therapy for these diseases.
In the early 1980s, Dr. Holmes recognized the potential global threat of AIDS. Working with his collaborators and trainees, he helped define the many determinants that were important in the sexual transmission of HIV internationally and demonstrated the synergistic role of other STIs, that enabled the HIV epidemic to expand rapidly within groups at risk for other STIs. He has been instrumental in promoting individual-level and population-level efforts to limit the spread of HIV and other STIs by combining effective biomedical and sociobehavioral interventions.
Dr. Holmes became the first William H. Foege Chair of Global Health at the University of Washington (UW) in 2006, and heads the Infectious Diseases Section at Harborview Medical Center. He founded and currently directs the UW/FHCRC Center for AIDS Research, and the UW Center for AIDS and STDs, a WHO/PAHO Collaborating Center. He is also principal investigator for the International Training and Education Center on Health (I-TECH), a collaboration between UW and University of California San Francisco—one of the largest HIV/AIDS training programs in the world.
He has contributed to the scientific literature with over 550 peer-reviewed scientific publications. Dr. Holmes helped launch the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, and has edited and led the classic textbook Sexually Transmitted Diseases through four editions.
Dr. Holmes has received numerous awards, including the IDSA Oswald Avery Award (1978), the IDSA Special Citation for Contributions to Research and Training (1995), the IDSA Maxwell Finland Lecturer (2005), the CRDF George Brown Award for International Scientific Cooperation (2006), and the Ned Behnke Community Leadership Award from the Lifelong AIDS Alliance (2010). He will receive the Canada Gairdner Foundation Global Health Award later this month. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine, and has received honorary doctorates or professorship from Universities in Sweden, Finland and Peru.
He earned a medical degree from Cornell University Medical College in 1963, was an intern in medicine at Vanderbilt University, served in the Navy during the war in Vietnam, was then a resident and chief resident in medicine at UW, and joined the U.S. Public Health Service for 18 years, assigned to the UW.
His work continues to have significant impacts on basic science, treatment and prevention strategies. His trainees, and their trainees, are themselves a vast global network of very accomplished investigators. And all the while he has changed not at all, remaining who he is, always unflappable, persistent, pleasant.
IDSA is proud to recognize Dr. Holmes, a singular leader, who personally recreated an entire field of clinical research, with the 2013 Alexander Fleming Award for Lifetime Achievement.
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