Expert on DNA Viruses is 35th Recipient.
Dr. Priscilla A. Schaffer ’64, Sc.D. ’94, an internationally recognized expert in the pathogenesis of DNA viruses and Chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Virology, Harvard Medical School at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, will be honored as the 35th recipient of Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Elizabeth Blackwell Award, to be presented in Moving Up Day ceremonies at 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 27 on the Stern Lawn. She is the first William Smith alumna to receive the award.
The Blackwell Award, given to women whose lives exemplify outstanding service to humankind, is named for Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in America to receive the Doctor of Medicine degree. Blackwell earned her degree in 1849 from Geneva Medical College, later Hobart College.
“Like Dr. Blackwell before her, Dr. Schaffer has devoted her life to health care, said HWS President Mark D. Gearan. “Her remarkable research has made great strides in treating DNA viruses and has given hope to millions of people around the world. The Colleges honor her contributions to medicine, her drive and ingenuity.
Schaffer’s research has focused primarily on the herpes simplex virus, its ability to establish lifelong latent infections and its relation to neurological diseases. The virus is a leading cause of infectious blindness and can be fatal to individuals with weak immune systems, such as newborns, the elderly and AIDS patients. Schaffer has successfully illuminated the molecular chain of events that facilitate virus replication and enable antiviral drugs to combat herpes virus infections.
In addition to her duties as Chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Virology, Schaffer is also Professor of Medicine and of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Harvard Medical School. She was previously Chair of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine where she was the first woman to serve as chair of any department at that institution. Prior to that, she served as Chief of the Laboratory of Tumor Virus Genetics at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Director of the Institute’s Women’s Cancers Program. Schaffer has been especially active in the area of scientific ethics, as a member of the Expert Scientific Advisory Panel, Office of Scientific Integrity, National Institutes of Health, the Congressional Commission on Research Integrity, Public Health Service and Harvard Medical School’s Faculty Conduct Committee.
At William Smith, Schaffer graduated cum laude with a double major in biology and chemistry. She went on to earn her Ph.D. with distinction in medical microbiology from Cornell University Medical College. She served on the Board of Trustees from 1986-1994 and is a member of the William Smith Centennial Honorary Committee.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges confer the Blackwell Award whenever a candidate of sufficient stature and appropriate qualifications is identified. The first award was given in 1958, the most recent in 2004. Schaffer joins such notable women as former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, professional tennis legend Billie Jean King, and anthropologist and author Margaret Mead.