W. Ian Lipkin

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W. Ian Lipkin
EducationUniversity of Chicago Laboratory School
Alma mater
Known for
First to use molecular methods to identify an infectious agent (MassTag-PCR, GreeneChip, High Throughput Sequencing
  • Silverstein Lecturer, Northwestern University (2017)
  • Mendel Medal, Villanova University (2014)
  • Drexel Prize in Translational Medicine (2013)
  • Senior Scholar in Global Infectious Diseases, Ellison Medical Foundation (2002)
  • Pew Scholar, Biomedical Sciences (1991)
Scientific career

W. Ian Lipkin (born 1952) is the John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and Professor of Neurology and Pathology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. Lipkin is also Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity, an academic laboratory for microbe hunting in acute and chronic diseases.


Lipkin was born in Chicago, Illinois where he attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School and was President of the Student Board in 1969. Looking to originally become a cultural anthropologist, he relocated to New York and earned his BA from Sarah Lawrence College in 1974. During his time at Sarah Lawrence, "I felt that if I went straight into cultural anthropology after college I’d be a parasite. I’d go someplace, take information about myths and ritual, and have nothing to offer. So I decided to become a medical anthropologist and try to bring back traditional medicines. Suddenly I found myself in medical school."[1] Returning to his hometown Chicago, Lipkin earned his MD from Rush Medical College, in 1978. In the immediate years thereafter, he was a clinical clerk at the UCL Institute of Neurology in Queen Square, London on a fellowship and an Intern in medicine at University of Pittsburgh (1978–1979), completed a Residency in Medicine at University of Washington (1979–1981), and completed a Residency in Neurology at University of California, San Francisco (1981–1984). He conducted postdoctoral research in microbiology and neuroscience at The Scripps Research Institute from 1984–90 under the mentorship of Michael Oldstone and Floyd Bloom. In his six years at Scripps, Lipkin became a Senior Research Associate upon completing his postdoctoral work and was President of the Scripps' Society of Fellows in 1987.


Lipkin was the Louise Turner Arnold Chair in the Neurosciences[2] at the University of California, Irvine from 1990-2001 and was recruited shortly thereafter by Columbia University. He began his current tenure at Columbia as the founding director of the Jerome L. and Dawn Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory from 2002-2007, which transitioned to the John Snow Professorship he holds at present.

A physician-scientist, Lipkin is internationally recognized for his work with West Nile virus and SARS, as well as advancing pathogen discovery techniques by developing a staged strategy using techniques pioneered in his lab. These molecular biological methods, including MassTag-PCR, the GreeneChip diagnostic, and High Throughput Sequencing, are a major step towards identifying and studying new viral pathogens that emerge locally throughout the globe. A major node in a global network of investigators working to address the challenges of pathogen surveillance and discovery, Dr. Lipkin has trained over 30 internationally based scientists in these state-of-the art diagnostic techniques.

Lipkin is the director for the Center for Research in Diagnostics and Discovery (CRDD), under the NIH Centers of Excellence for Translational Research program.[3] The CRDD brings together leading investigators in microbial and human genetics, engineering, microbial ecology and public health to develop insights into mechanisms of disease and methods for detecting infectious agents, characterizing microflora and identifying biomarkers that can be used to guide clinical management. Lipkin was previously the Director of the Northeast Biodefense Center,[4] the Regional Center of Excellence in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases which comprised 28 private and public academic and public health institutions in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Within this consortium, his research focused on pathogen discovery, using unexplained hemorrhagic fever, febrile illness, encephalitis, and meningoencephalitis as targets. He is the Principal Investigator of the Autism Birth Cohort, a unique international program that investigates the epidemiology and basis of neurodevelopmental disorders through analyses of a prospective birth cohort of 100,000 children and their parents. The ABC is examining gene-environment-timing interactions, biomarkers and the trajectory of normal development and disease. Lipkin also directs the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Diagnostics in Zoonotic and Emerging Infectious Diseases, the only academic center, and one of two in the US (the other is CDC), that participates in outbreak investigation for the WHO.

Lipkin was co-chair of CDC Steering Committee of the National Biosurveillance Advisory Subcommittee (NBAS).[5] The NBAS was established in response to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 21 (HSPD-21),[6] "Public Health and Medical Preparedness."

He is Honorary Director of the Beijing Infectious Disease Center, Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Institut Pasteur de Shanghai and serves on boards of the Australian Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre for Emerging Infectious Disease, the Guangzhou Institute for Biomedicine and Health, the EcoHealth Alliance,[7] Tetragenetics, and 454 Life Sciences Corporation.

Lipkin served as a science consultant for the film Contagion.[8] The film has been praised for its scientific accuracy.

Early career[edit]

While not quite a medical anthropologist, Lipkin specializes in infectious diseases and their neurological impact. His first professional publication came in 1979 during the time of his fellowship in London as a letter to the Editor at the Archives of Internal Medicine (now JAMA Internal Medicine), where he poses a potential correlation between eosinopenia and bacteremia in diagnostic evaluations for a bacteremic patient.[9] While at UCL, he worked with John Newsom-Davis, who was utilizing plasmapheresis to better understand myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease.[10]

In 1981, Lipkin began his neurology residency and worked in a local San Francisco clinic, which was about the time AIDS began to affect the local city population. Because of the social view of homosexual people at the time, very few clinicians would see patients with these symptoms. He “was watching many patients fall ill with AIDS. It took years for scientists to discover the virus responsible for the disease… ‘I saw all of this, and I said, “We have to find new and better ways to do this.”’”[11] It was during this epidemic that Lipkin took the approach of looking for a virus’ genes instead of looking for antibodies in infected people as a way to speed up the diagnosis process. By the mid-1980s, Lipkin had published two papers specifically about AIDS research[12][13] and transitioned into utilizing a more pathological approach to virus identification. He identified AIDS-associated immunological abnormalities and inflammatory neuropathy, which he showed could be treated with plasmapheresis and demonstrated early life exposure to viral infections affects neurotransmitter function.


In 1989, Lipkin was the first to identify a microbe using purely molecular tools.[14][15] During his time as Chair at UC Irvine, Lipkin published several papers throughout the decade dissecting and interpreting Bornavirus.[16] Once it was apparent the viral infections could selectively alter behavior and steady state brain levels of neurotransmitter mRNAs, the next step was to look for infectious agents which could be used as probes to map anatomic and functional domains in the central nervous system (CNS).[17]

By the mid-1990s, it was asserted that “Borna disease is a neurotropic negative-strand RNA virus that infects a wide range of vertebrate hosts,” causing “an immune-mediated syndrome resulting in disturbances in movement and behavior.”[18] This led to several groups across the globe working to determine if there was a link between Borna disease virus (BDV) or a related agent and human neuropsychiatric disease.[19] The group was formally called Microbiology and Immunology of Neuropsychiatric Disorders (MIND) and the multicenter, multi-national group focused on using standardized methods for clinical diagnosis and blinded laboratory assessment of BDV infection.[20] After nearly two decades of inquiry, the first blinded case-controlled study of the link between BDV and psychiatric illness[21] was completed by the researchers at Columbia University's Center for Infection and Immunity in a joint effort that concluded there is no association between the two. Lipkin noted “it was concern over the potential role of BDV in mental illness and the inability to identify it using classical techniques that led us to develop molecular methods for pathogen discovery. Ultimately these new techniques enabled us to refute a role for BDV in human disease. But the fact remains that we gained strategies for the discovery of hundreds of other pathogens that have important implications for medicine, agriculture, and environmental health.”[22]

West Nile Virus[edit]

West Nile Virus in New York

In 1999, West Nile virus was reported in two patients in Flushing Hospital Medical Center in Queens, New York. Lipkin led the team identifying West Nile virus in brain tissue of encephalitis victims in New York State[11] It was determined potential routes for the spread of West Nile virus throughout New York (and the Eastern United States) originated from predominantly mosquitoes, but also possible from infected birds or human beings. There is a high likelihood the two international airports nearby the initial reported cases were also the initial points of entry into the United States.[23] During the five years after the first reported case, Lipkin worked on a study with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Wadsworth Center at the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) to determine how a vaccine could be developed. While they had some success with the immunization of mice with prME-LPs,[24] as of 2018, there is still no human vaccine for WNV.[25]



Chinese scientists first discovered the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus in February 2003, but due to initial misinterpretation of the data, the information of the correct agent associated with SARS was suppressed and the outbreak investigation had a delayed start. Advanced hospital facilities were at the greatest risk as they were most susceptible to virus transmission, so it was the “classical gumshoe epidemiology” of “contact tracing and isolation” that brought swift action against the epidemic.[26] Lipkin was requested to assist with the investigation by Chen Zhou, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Xu Guanhua, minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology in China to “assess the state of the epidemic, identify the gaps in science, and develop a strategy for containing the virus and reducing morbidity and mortality.”[27] This brought the development of Real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) technology, which essentially allowed for the detection of infection at earlier time points as the process, in this instance, targets the N gene sequence and amplify the analysis in a closed system. This markedly reduces the risk of contamination during processing.[28] Test kits were developed with this PCR-based assay analysis[29] and 10,000 were hand-delivered to Beijing during the height of the outbreak by Lipkin, whereupon he trained local clinical microbiologists on the proper usage. He became ill upon his return to the U.S. and was quarantined.[30]

Lipkin was asked to join the Defense Science Board Task Force on SARS Quarantine Guidance during the height of the SARS outbreak between 2003–04, to advise the U.S. Department of Defense on steps to domestically manage the epidemic. As part of the EcoHealth Alliance, Lipkin's center worked in conjunction with an NIH/NIAID grant[31] assessing bats as the reservoir for the SARS virus. 47 publications resulted from this grant, which also included assessment on Nipah, Hendra, Ebola, and Marburg viruses. This proved to be significant research on the overall study of viral reservoirs as it was determined that bats carry coronaviruses and either directly infect humans with an exchange of bodily fluid (such as a bite) or indirectly by infecting an intermediate host, such as swine.[32]



Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) was first reported in Saudi Arabia during June 2012 when a local man was initially diagnosed with acute pneumonia and later died of renal failure. The early reports of the disease were similar to SARS as the symptoms are similar, but it was quickly determined these cases were caused by a new strain called MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Given Lipkin's expertise with the SARS outbreak in China nearly ten years prior, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health granted Lipkin and his lab local access to animal samples related to the initial reported cases.[33] With the rare opportunity, Lipkin's team created a mobile lab able to fit in six pieces of personal luggage and was transported from New York to Saudi Arabia via commercial flight to complete the analysis of samples.[34]

It seemed unlikely that bats were directly infecting humans, as the direct physical interaction between the two is limited at best.[33] A study was completed in more local proximity, examining the diverse bat populations in southeastern Mexico and determining how diverse the viruses they carry could be.[35] However, it became apparent that dromedary camels were the intermediary in the transmission between bats and humans, since camel milk and meat are dietary staples in the Saudi Arabian region.[36] The instances of human-to-human transmission appeared to be isolated to case-patients and anyone in close direct contact with them, as opposed to a broad open-air transmission.[37] By 2017, it was determined that bats are most likely the evolutionary original source for MERS-CoV along with several other coronaviruses, though not all of those types of zoonotic viruses are direct threats to humans like MERS-CoV[38] and “[c]ollectively, these examples demonstrate that the MERS-related coronaviruses are high associated with bats and are geographically widespread.”[39]


Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) is a chronic condition characterized by extreme fatigue after exertion that is not relieved by rest and includes other symptoms, such as muscle and joint pain and cognitive dysfunction. In September 2017, the NIH awarded a $9.6 million grant to Columbia University for the "CfS for ME/CFS" intended for the pursuit of basic research and the development of tools to help both physicians and patients effectively monitor the course of the illness.[40] This collaboration effort led by Lipkin includes other institutions, such as the Bateman Horne Center (Lucinda Bateman), Harvard University (Anthony L. Komaroff), Stanford University (Jose Montoya), Sierra Internal Medicine (Daniel Peterson), University of California, Davis (Oliver Fiehn), and Albert Einstein College of Medicine (John Greally), along with private clinicians in New York City.

The team of researchers and clinicians initially collaborated to de-link xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) to ME/CFS after the NIH requested research into the conflicting reports between XMRV and ME/CFS. The group "consolidated its vision with support from the Hutchins Family Foundation Chronic Fatigue Initiative (CFI) and a crowd-funding organization, The Microbe Discovery Project, to explore the role of infection and immunity in disease and identify biomarkers for diagnosis through functional genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic discovery."[41] The project will collect a large clinical database and sample repository representing oral, fecal, and blood samples from well-characterized ME/CFS subjects and frequency-matched controls collected nationwide over a period of several years. Additionally, researchers are working with ME/CFS community and advocacy groups as the project progresses.[42]

Awards and Honors[edit]

Year(s) Award/Honor Institution/Organization
2018 Guest Professorship[30] Nankai University
2017 Silverstein Lecture[43] Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine
2016 International Science and Technology Award[27] President, Xi Jinping, People's Republic of China
2015 10 World Changing Ideas[44] Scientific American
Fellow[45] Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)
Distinguished Lecturer[46] Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (Rutgers University)
2014 The Bernard Fields Lectures on Microbial Pathogenesis[30] Scripps Research Institute
Mendel Medal[47] Villanova University
2013 Simonyi Lecturer[48] University of Oxford
Distinguished Alumnus Award[49] Rush Medical College
Drexel Prize in Translational Medicine[50] Drexel University
2012 Hsu-Li Distinguished Lectureship in Epidemiology[51] University of Iowa
2010 Member[52] Association of American Physicians (AAP)
2009 Fellow[52] American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Fellow[52] Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
The Courage Fund Visiting Professorship[52] Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore
Kinyoun Lecturer[52] National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Distinguished Lecturer[53] Pennsylvania State University
2008 John Snow Professor of Epidemiology[45] Columbia University
2006 Fellow[52] American Society for Microbiology (ASM)
Presidential Speaker[54] Triological Society
2005 Honorary Director[30] Beijing Infectious Disease Center
2004 Fellow[52] New York Academy of Sciences
2003 Special Advisor to the Ministry of Science and Technology[55] People's Republic of China
Distinguished Lecturer[30] Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics, University of California, Irvine
2001 Senior Scholar in Global Infectious Disease[52] Ellison Medical Foundation
2001-03 Foundation Lecturer[52] American Society for Microbiology (ASM)
2000 Louise Turner Arnold Chair in the Neurosciences[56] University of California, Irvine
Visiting Bruenn Professor[52] Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons
Millennium Commencement Speaker[57] Sarah Lawrence College
1999 Visiting Professor[52] Japanese Human Science Foundation
1991 Pew Scholar[58] The Pew Charitable Trusts
NARSAD Young Investigator[58] Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
1987-92 Clinical Investigator Development Award[58] National Institutes of Health (NIH)
1986-87 President, Society of Fellows[58] Scripps Research Institute
1984-87 Postdoctoral Fellowship[58] National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS)


  1. ^ "Ian Lipkin The Virus Hunter" (PDF). Discover. April 2012.
  2. ^ Gewertz, Catherine (March 31, 1993). "Realtor to Give $1.62 Million for UCI Chair". Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ "Centers of Excellence for Translational Research". nih.gov.
  4. ^ "Region II NIH Regional Center of Excellence in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases".
  5. ^ "Dr. W. Ian Lipkin Named Co-Chair of CDC Subcommittee". 15 July 2010.
  6. ^ "Homeland Security Presidential Directive". archives.gov. 18 October 2007.
  7. ^ "Home - EcoHealth Alliance". ecohealthalliance.org.
  8. ^ "Five Questions for Ian Lipkin, the Scientist Who Designed Contagion's Virus".
  9. ^ Lipkin, W. I (April 1979). "Eosinophil Counts in Bacteremia" (PDF). Archives of Internal Medicine. 139 (4): 490–1. doi:10.1001/archinte.1979.03630410094035. PMID 435009.
  10. ^ Hamblin, Terry (1998). "Plasmapheresis". Encyclopedia of Immunology. pp. 1969–1971. doi:10.1006/rwei.1999.0495. ISBN 9780122267659.
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  13. ^ Lipkin, W. I; Parry, G; Kiprov, D; Abrams, D (1985). "Inflammatory neuropathy in homosexual men with lymphadenopathy" (PDF). Neurology. 35 (10): 1479–83. doi:10.1212/WNL.35.10.1479. PMID 2993951.
  14. ^ Lipkin, W. I; Travis, G. H; Carbone, K. M; Wilson, M. C (1990). "Isolation and characterization of Borna disease agent cDNA clones". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 87 (11): 4184–8. doi:10.1073/pnas.87.11.4184. JSTOR 2354914. PMC 54072. PMID 1693432.
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  16. ^ "Columbia University Center for Infection and Immunity Publications, 1990-99".
  17. ^ Lipkin, W. I; Carbone, K. M; Wilson, M. C; Duchala, C. S; Narayan, O; Oldstone, M. B (1988). "Neurotransmitter abnormalities in Borna disease". Brain Research. 475 (2): 366–70. doi:10.1016/0006-8993(88)90627-0. PMID 2905625.
  18. ^ Briese, T; Schneemann, A; Lewis, A. J; Park, Y. S; Kim, S; Ludwig, H; Lipkin, W. I (1994). "Genomic organization of Borna disease virus". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 91 (10): 4362–6. doi:10.1073/pnas.91.10.4362. PMC 43785. PMID 8183914.
  19. ^ Bode, L; Ludwig, H (2003). "Borna Disease Virus Infection, a Human Mental-Health Risk". Clinical Microbiology Reviews. 16 (3): 534–545. doi:10.1128/CMR.16.3.534-545.2003. PMC 164222. PMID 12857781.
  20. ^ Lipkin, W. I; Hornig, M; Briese, T (2001). "Borna disease virus and neuropsychiatric disease--a reappraisal". Trends in Microbiology. 9 (7): 295–8. doi:10.1016/S0966-842X(01)02071-6. PMID 11435078.
  21. ^ Hornig, M; Briese, T; Licinio, J; Khabbaz, R. F; Altshuler, L. L; Potkin, S. G; Schwemmle, M; Siemetzki, U; Mintz, J; Honkavuori, K; Kraemer, H. C; Egan, M. F; Whybrow, P. C; Bunney, W. E; Lipkin, W. I (2012). "Absence of evidence for bornavirus infection in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder". Molecular Psychiatry. 17 (5): 486–93. doi:10.1038/mp.2011.179. PMC 3622588. PMID 22290118.
  22. ^ "Does Borna Disease Virus Cause Mental Health? Stephanie Berger. Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. January 31, 2012".
  23. ^ Briese, T; Jia, X. Y; Huang, C; Grady, L. J; Lipkin, W. I (1999). "Identification of a Kunjin/West Nile-like flavivirus in brains of patients with New York encephalitis". Lancet. 354 (9186): 1261–2. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(99)04576-6. PMID 10520637.
  24. ^ Qiao, M; Ashok, M; Bernard, K. A; Palacios, G; Zhou, Z. H; Lipkin, W. I; Liang, T. J (2004). "Induction of sterilizing immunity against West Nile Virus (WNV), by immunization with WNV-like particles produced in insect cells". The Journal of Infectious Diseases. 190 (12): 2104–8. doi:10.1086/425933. PMID 15551208.
  25. ^ "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: West Nile Virus".
  26. ^ Lipkin, W. Ian (2009). "SARS: How a global epidemic was stopped". Global Public Health. 4 (5): 500–501. doi:10.1080/17441690903061389.
  27. ^ a b "Ian Lipkin Receives Top Science Honor in China, Columbia University, January 8, 2016".
  28. ^ Zhai, J; Briese, T; Dai, E; Wang, X; Pang, X; Du, Z; Liu, H; Wang, J; Wang, H; Guo, Z; Chen, Z; Jiang, L; Zhou, D; Han, Y; Jabado, O; Palacios, G; Lipkin, W. I; Tang, R (2004). "Real-time polymerase chain reaction for detecting SARS coronavirus, Beijing, 2003". Emerging Infectious Diseases. 10 (2): 300–3. doi:10.3201/eid1002.030799. PMC 3322935. PMID 15030701.
  29. ^ "Columbia University Technology Ventures, submission date April 15, 2003".
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  31. ^ "Grant: Risk of Viral Emergence from Bats, funding period 2008-13".
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  35. ^ Anthony, S. J; Ojeda-Flores, R; Rico-Chávez, O; Navarrete-Macias, I; Zambrana-Torrelio, C. M; Rostal, M. K; Epstein, J. H; Tipps, T; Liang, E; Sanchez-Leon, M; Sotomayor-Bonilla, J; Aguirre, A. A; Ávila-Flores, R; Medellín, R. A; Goldstein, T; Suzán, G; Daszak, P; Lipkin, W. I (2013). "Coronaviruses in bats from Mexico". The Journal of General Virology. 94 (Pt 5): 1028–1038. doi:10.1099/vir.0.049759-0. PMC 3709589. PMID 23364191.
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  41. ^ "NIH Research Portolio Online Reporting Tools, Project Information".
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  48. ^ ""Of Microbes and Men: Tales of a Small Game Hunter" Simonyi Lecture by W. Ian Lipkin".
  49. ^ "CII Director Receives Rush Medical College Distinguished Alumni Award".
  50. ^ "Drexel Prizes Awarded for Scientific Excellence".
  51. ^ "Hsu-Li Distinguished Lectureship in International Epidemiology".
  52. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k National Academies Of Sciences, Engineering; Affairs, Policy Global; Committee On Science, Technology; Management, Committee on Dual Use Research of Concern: Options for Future (2017-09-01). Dual Use Research of Concern in the Life Sciences: Current Issues and Controversies. p. 87. ISBN 9780309458917.
  53. ^ "Science Seminars: 16-22 March 2009".
  54. ^ "Triological Society Annual Program, Friday, May 19, 2006" (PDF).
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  57. ^ "Timeline of Commencement Speakers & Senior Lecturers, 2000s Tab".
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External links[edit]