Outstanding Alumni Awards
Dr. Roy Curtiss III ’56 is Director of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology in the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, as well as Professor in the School of Life Sciences. In addition, Curtiss is the George William and Irene Koechig Freiberg Professor of Biology Emeritus, Washington University in St. Louis. Curtiss is a world-renowned geneticist and is engaged in developing attenuated Salmonella vaccines against agricultural and human pathogens. He is a leader in the use of genetic and gene cloning approaches to elucidate bacterial virulence and he pioneered the development of plant-based vaccines. Since the 1970s, Curtiss and his research group have sought to define the biochemical bases and genetic controls by which bacterial pathogens cause tooth decay, gastroenteritis, typhoid fever, leprosy and pneumonia. Curtiss served as Chair of biosciences departments at two schools: University of Alabama-Birmingham and Washington University in St. Louis. Curtiss has worked at two national U.S. laboratories: Brookhaven and Oak Ridge National Laboratories. He also formed two biotech companies including Megan Health, Inc., which engaged in discovering, developing, and marketing live, oral bacterial vaccines for animals and humans based on gene modification technologies.
After graduating from Cornell in 1956 with a bachelors degree, Curtiss worked for a brief time as a laboratory instructor and research assistant in the Department of Poultry Husbandry at Cornell, before working as a junior technical specialist in the Biology Division of Brookhaven National Laboratory. From 1960 to the 1980s, Curtiss worked as a university and NIH fellow in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Chicago; biologist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, TN; lecturer, associate director and interim director of the University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences; Professor and Chair of the Microbiology Department, Senior Scientist in the Cancer Center and Founder and Director of the Cystic Fibrosis Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Curtiss also was Professor (1983-2005) and Chair (1983-1993) of the Department of Biology and professor of cellular and molecular biology in the School of Dental Medicine (1983-1991) at Washington University in St. Louis.
Curtiss holds an extensive list of 29 patents, three licensed vaccines, and over 60 grant-funded research projects. He has published nearly 300 articles and research papers and has mentored countless aspiring scientists at all stages of their academic careers from high school, undergraduate and graduate students, as well as post-doctoral trainees. Curtiss has served on executive committees, search committees and advisory boards at each university where he has been a faculty member. He has served as a founder, board member, and/or science advisor for numerous biotech, pharmaceutical, vaccine discovery, and agricultural start-up companies around the world. Curtiss shares his passion for science as a visiting lecturer, guest/keynote speaker, and distinguished lecturer for national and international universities, organizations, meetings and conferences.
In 1962, Curtiss was invited to join Sigma Xi, the scientific research society founded at Cornell in 1886. Since that time, Curtiss has been recognized by the American Men and Women of Science, Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in America, as well as nearly every Who’s Who organization in existence. Curtiss is a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. In 2005, he was a recipient of a research grant award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative.
Curtiss’ Cornell involvements include his long-time support of the Class of 1956 and as a member of the CALS Alumni Association. Curtiss is also a member of Alpha Zeta Fraternity, Ho-Nun-De-Kah, and the Quill and Dagger Honor Society.
Curtiss’ highly successful scientific career has spanned six decades. It is worth noting that by its very nature, the scientific work of Roy Curtiss is humanitarian--with a primary focus on alleviating suffering and death in the developing world. He is well known for the development of a vaccine that controls Salmonella contamination of poultry products. One of his current projects is the development of a vaccine against bacterial pneumonia--a disease which kills more children around the world each year than any other infectious disease. That drives Roy and his team to perfect a safe, yet potent vaccine for this lethal pathogen that can be tolerated by newborn babies.
Curtiss is married to Josephine Clark-Curtiss and has seven children, ten grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He and his wife reside in Paradise Valley, AZ.