Anthony S. Fauci: Bringing a Sense of Humanity to a Very Public Position
He serves as a key advisor to the White House and other arms of the U.S. government on issues pertaining to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and biodefense, and on initiatives to bolster medical and public health preparedness against influenza and other infectious disease threats. As a physician, scientist, administrator, educator and humanitarian his contributions to the treatment and understanding of infectious and immune-mediated illnesses are exemplary, recently earning him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest award given to a civilian.
But despite his lofty achievements, Anthony Stephen Fauci still considers himself a regular guy from a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, where as a young boy he loved to play basketball, but also developed the desire to alleviate suffering and serve the public through medicine. A straight-talking man in a highly public position, Tony is Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), where he oversees the federal government’s extensive research portfolio of basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses. These maladies include HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, illness from potential agents of bioterrorism, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies. The NIAID budget for fiscal 2010 is about $4.8 billion. “I believe I have a personal responsibility to make a positive impact on society and chose to do this by becoming a public servant,” says Tony, who as a boy used to deliver prescriptions on his bike from his father’s pharmacy. “I consider my job a gift which allows me to alleviate human suffering.”
He was one of the first in science and medicine to recognize the HIV/AIDS outbreak as a potential health crisis when the malady came to the world’s attention in 1981. “When I chose to focus on the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, many of my colleagues thought I was misguided,” says Tony, a physician-scientist trained in immunology and infectious diseases. ”But I felt I was destined to become involved. I knew deep down that this disease was to be a public health catastrophe. Failure to contain this disease is not an option.”
For almost 30 years, Tony has made seminal contributions to the understanding of how HIV destroys the body's defenses, leading to its susceptibility to deadly infections. Furthermore, he has been instrumental in developing highly effective strategies to treat patients with this disease, approaches that have resulted in millions of years of life saved around the world. He continues to devote much of his research to identifying exactly how HIV causes disease and the scope of the body's immune responses to this endlessly devious virus. As testament to his prolific work in AIDS research, Tony was recognized as the world's 10th most-cited HIV/AIDS researcher in the period between 1996 and 2006 by an Institute for Scientific Information study.
He also has made other major contributions in basic and clinical research. He has pioneered the field of human immunoregulation, making several discoveries that underlie our current understanding of how the human immune system works. In addition, he has developed effective therapies for formerly fatal inflammatory and immune-mediated diseases such as polyarteritis nodosa, Wegener's granulomatosis, and lymphomatoid granulomatosis.
Focused and driven even as a young boy, Tony graduated from the all-scholarship, Jesuit-run Regis High School in New York City, where his teachers emphasized precision of thought and economy of expression, skills he took to heart that have made him one of the nation’s most trusted spokespersons on infectious diseases. He went on to attend the College of the Holy Cross, where his focus on classics, philosophy and pre-med courses started him on his career path. Subsequently, he received his medical degree from Cornell University Medical College. He then completed his internship and residency at The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.
“I have three guiding principles that anchor my life, and I think about them every day,” Tony says. “First, I have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and I consider myself a perpetual student. I seek and learn knowledge every day, from the experiments in the lab to taking care of a patient.”
Second, he says: “I strive for excellence --I sweat both the big and the small stuff. This has made me a better physician and scientist. This creates personal tension, but without this tension I would not be as focused.”
His third guiding principle stems from what originally attracted him to the medical and science professions – a sense of moral responsibility to help others, not just citizens from our own country, but people throughout the world. ”The world is a place that is so interconnected that what happens in another part of the world will impact us,” says Tony. “We have a moral responsibility for humanitarian considerations when other citizens of the world are suffering and dying ... we have the moral responsibility to try to help those who are less fortunate.”
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