Yoshihiro Kawaoka - Bazeley Orator

Yoshihiro Kawaoka, DVM, PhD

Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA and University of Tokyo, Japan

Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka was educated in Japan, receiving his DVM in 1978 and his PhD in 1983 from Hokkaido University. Early in his career, he identified a critical determinant for high pathogenicity of avian influenza viruses; this information is now used by the USDA and the Office International des Epizooties (World Organisation for Animal Health, OIE) as a criterion for rapidly identifying lethal and non-lethal avian influenza viruses. Dr. Kawaoka also established the technique of reverse genetics, which allows the generation of ‘designer’ influenza viruses. This technology – coupled with his findings regarding the attenuation of deadly influenza viruses – has been used to develop candidate H5N1 influenza virus vaccines, which have proven efficacious in clinical trials. Reverse genetics is also utilized to generate live attenuated influenza vaccines (FluMist) that are used worldwide. Dr. Kawaoka has also studied the 1918 Spanish influenza virus, which killed over 40 million people. He discovered that infection with this virus caused an abnormal immune response. His findings are used globally by public health agencies as part of the enormous task of influenza pandemic planning.

In addition to his work with influenza virus, Dr. Kawaoka also studies Ebola virus. Because of its extreme virulence, Ebola virus used to be studied only in laboratories designated as biosafety level 4 (BSL4), the highest containment environment possible.  This requirement severely hampered the progress of Ebola virus research, as few such facilities exist worldwide. Dr. Kawaoka was the first to establish a pseudotype virus system that allows the analysis of Ebola virus glycoprotein under BSL2 conditions. Dr. Kawaoka has also developed another system that allows the study of the entire Ebola virus replication cycle under non-BSL4 conditions.

In recognition of his achievements, Dr. Kawaoka was awarded the prestigious Robert Koch Award in 2006, and the Medal of Honor (Purple Ribbon) from the Emperor of Japan in 2011 for his innovative research in the field of influenza virology. In 2013, he was elected as a Foreign Associate of the United States National Academy of Sciences.