Students, faculty and media—along with public guests—filled the Jake Nevin Field House at 2 p.m. on Nov. 11. The audience convened to hear the winner of this year’s Mendel Medal, the preeminent immunologist Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.
The Mendel Medal—established in 1928 by the University’s Board of Trustees—is named after the Augustinian friar and scientist Gregor Mendel, who has been crowned “the father of modern genetics.” The purpose of the award is to recognize the exceptional scientific contributions made by individuals.
Fauci has been the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health since 1984. Subsequently, he was also on the frontlines of the battle against infectious diseases and has advised fives Presidents on related issues. Furthermore, he was also one of the chief designers of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which has saved over 8.8 million lives in the developing world.
Though Fauci has worked to research, prevent, diagnose and treat a variety of infectious diseases—such as the emerging Ebola and Zika epidemic—his speech Friday was titled “Ending the HIV/AIDS Pandemic: An Achievable Goal.” Specifically, the treatment and prevention of the disease were the topics of interest.
Although there is no cure for AIDS, the lecture was optimistic about the future. The Director referenced improved medicines, which delay the affects of AIDS after one tests HIV positive, along with promising statistics regarding its prevalence and mortality. Fauci instructed students to respond to the pandemic in two ways: protect yourself and work to replace the stigma attached to AIDS with one of acceptance.
“Villanova is honored to award the Mendel Award to this esteemed scientist,” said the Rev. Kail Ellis, Ph.D., O.S.A., Special Assistant to the President and Dean Emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “I am particularly pleased that faculty, and especially students, will have an opportunity to hear Dr. Anthony Fauci in person, as he lectures on his research and contributions to the current understanding of diseases and therapies for such fatal diseases as HIV/AIDS, Ebola and Zika virus.”
“The Mendel Medal is a great honor, but it really represents the epitome of science: the implications of new knowledge and discoveries are almost always [unforeseeable] at the time they are made,” Fauci said.
“Life is really unpredictable. Things get thrown into your path that you didn’t plan for or expect, and if you follow that path you will find yourself doing things you never imagined doing.”
The epitome of this in the Mendel Medal winner’s life occurred when the case files regarding the—then unknown—disease of AIDS landed on his desk. His decision to look into the cases and change his professional direction was the result of circumstances outside of his control.