History of the Department

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston was established in 1891 as the Medical Department of the University of Texas. It comprises at present four separate health science-related schools and two institutes for advanced study, with the School of Medicine being the oldest medical school within the State of Texas. The institution has a great and longstanding tradition of training physicians who provide medical care to Texans and for advancing knowledge in the field of medicine.

Past Chairs

niesel_smDr. David Niesel was appointed Chair in 2004, after having served as Chair, ad interim, since June of 2000. He had been a faculty member since 1983. Dr. Niesel received his PhD in biochemistry in 1980 from North Carolina State University. Following his graduation he served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and at the University of Texas in Austin. Dr. Niesel held the position of Vice Chair of Graduate and Postgraduate Education and served as Graduate Program Director for Microbiology & Immunology from 1997-1999. He served as Assistant Dean for Recruitment and Alumni in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, and in 1997 was named Vice Dean for the School.

In 2013 Dr. Niesel was appointed as Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and stepped down as Chair of the department. Dr. Niesel also holds the prestigious J.P. Saunders Professorship in Graduate Biomedical Sciences, and the Lawrence E. Ethridge, Jr. Professorship. In a partnership with the National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA), his laboratory is investigating Streptococcus pneumoniae gene and protein expression and assessment of the virulence potential of this pathogen under microgravity conditions. He is also investigating rapid methods to detect antimicrobial resistance in mixed populations of bacteria using selective reaction monitoring (SRM). Dr. Niesel was named Chief Research Officer in March 2015.

lemon-smlDr. Stanley M. Lemon held the Chair in Microbiology and Immunology from 1997 - 2000, at which time he assumed the role of Dean of Medicine for the University, a post he held until 2005. At that time, Dr. Lemon resigned to direct UTMB's Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, which has as one of its functions oversight of the Galveston National Laboratory. He received his MD degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and before coming to Galveston served as Professor of Medicine and Microbiology and Immunology, and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is known internationally for his research on the molecular virology of human hepatitis viruses. With his arrival at UTMB, the Department acquired additional laboratory space and added additional faculty with interests in molecular virology and cellular immunology. Interactions with the UTMB Center for Tropical Diseases were intensified, and the Department was significantly strengthened by greater involvement of faculty from other UTMB departments who shared a common passion for furthering understanding of infectious agents and the immune system.
Dr. Samuel BaronDr. Samuel Baron was appointed Chairman in 1975. Dr. Baron received his MD degree from New York University, and prior to his arrival at UTMB had been Head of the Section on Cellular Virology within the Laboratory of Viral Diseases of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda. His research interests centered on the role of interferon in controlling virus infections, and this became an important focus of research within the Department. Over the ensuing 21 years, the size of the faculty increased several fold, and the Department gained further recognition for its research. The numbers of graduate students more than doubled and there were many more postdoctoral trainees. During this period, Dr. Baron edited four editions of what became a classic textbook of medical microbiology. A Tissue Culture Core Facility, a Bacterial Fermentation Core, and a Flow Cytometry Core Laboratory were established. The Department served as a focal point on the UTMB campus for faculty with interests in immunology, and with rapid advances in this field, the name of the Department was changed in 1993 to Microbiology and Immunology.
Dr. Willard F. VerweyThe name of the Department was changed to Microbiology in 1957 when Dr. Willard F. Verwey was appointed Chairman. Dr. Verwey was trained in bacteriology at Rutgers University and the Johns Hopkins University. He was instrumental in the development and testing of new cholera vaccines. As a result of Dr. Verwey's efforts, the Department acquired an international reputation for its research concerning cholera. Cholera is still a subject of research in the Department, and this reputation continues to the present. In 1969, the Board of Regents approved the establishment of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The number of graduate students and courses increased, and doctoral degrees in microbiology were now conferred directly by the University of Texas Medical Branch. Additional faculty were recruited and research activities were expanded.
Dr. William B. SharpIn 1921, Dr. William B. Sharp, from Rush Medical School, began his 36-year tenure as Chairman of the Department of Bacteriology and Preventive Medicine. In the spring of that year, the Regents of the University of Texas authorized the Department to supervise the work of graduate students who could earn master's (and later, doctoral) degrees to be conferred by the University of Texas at Austin. This was the beginning of graduate education in microbiology at UTMB. The number of faculty increased several-fold and bacteriology faculty established diagnostic laboratories within clinical departments. Teaching responsibilities expanded to include medical technology, nursing, and pharmacy as well as medical students. Notably, research activity was increased during this period and the first federal research grants were obtained.
Dr. Mark BoydIn 1912, a Department of Preventive Medicine was organized and a teaching program in bacteriology (which included parasitology and the nascent science of immunology) and hygiene was developed for medical, pharmacy, and nursing students. By 1917, this department was reorganized as the Department of Bacteriology and Preventive Medicine, a name that persisted for many years. The first head of the Department was Dr. Mark Boyd, who was trained at Harvard University and the University of Iowa. While in Galveston, he directed the plague laboratory, which was established in connection with a 1920 plague epidemic in the port city. Dr. Boyd published an early textbook of preventive medicine in 1920 and made original contributions to our understanding of plague, typhoid fever, sprue, dysentery, as well as clinical pathology. The Department remained small, however, and consisted of only two faculty members.
Dr. Allen J. SmithMicrobiology began in Galveston in 1891 when Dr. Allen J. Smith, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, was appointed to one of 8 faculty positions at the newly organized Medical Department. Dr. Smith was responsible for teaching bacteriology and parasitology to students at the fledgling medical school and served as Professor of Pathology. In 1902, he published a textbook entitled Lessons and Laboratory Exercises in Bacteriology. He was the first to identify hookworm eggs in the stools of native-born U.S. citizens, and material collected from medical students by Dr. Smith was used by Charles W. Stiles of the U.S. Public Health Service in 1902 to describe a new species of hookworm, Necator americanus. Dr. Smith and Dr. William Gammon, a member of the second graduating class at UTMB in 1893, constituted the faculty of the Department of Pathology during the early years. Later, the name of the Department was broadened to Pathology and Bacteriology.
Continuing Forward

As UTMB continues to expand its mission into the twenty-first century, the Department is well poised to make additional contributions to the control of infectious diseases, both through the education of students of medicine who will treat these infections, and through the development of new knowledge and the training of a future cadre of research microbiologists.