Dr. Jonathan Kurtis Honored for Work in Tropical Medicine

October 29, 2015

(L to R) Chandy John, MD, last year’s recipient of the Bailey K. Ashford Medal presenting the award to Jonathan Kurtis, MD

Jonathan D. Kurtis, MD, PhD, of Providence, R.I., was awarded the Bailey K. Ashford Medal by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) for research that could aid in the development of a malaria vaccine. Kurtis, the founder and director of the Center for International Health Research at Rhode Island Hospital and a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University , was presented the medal during ASTMH’s annual meeting in Philadelphia. 

“I congratulate Dr. Kurtis on the occasion of this tremendous honor, the awarding of the Bailey K. Ashford Medal for distinguished work in tropical medicine,” said Douglas Anthony, MD, PhD, pathologist-in-chief at Rhode Island Hospital. “Jake has spent his entire career working toward developing a vaccine that will protect millions of people from malaria and other tropical infections. His drive and dedication to improving global health is admirable, and we’re thrilled that others in this field share our view of the impact of his work.”

Most notable among Kurtis’ recent work is the discovery of a protein that is essential for malaria-causing parasites to escape red blood cells. Antibodies to this protein trap the parasite in the red blood cells, rendering them incapable of causing further damage. It is hoped that this discovery could lead to the development of a vaccine that will prevent the progression of Plasmodium falciparum malaria, which kills one child every 15 second in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

The medal honors distinguished work in tropical medicine. It is named for Col. Bailey K. Ashford (1873-1934), a pioneering physician who, at age 26, recognized that hookworms caused the anemia prevalent among the rural populations of Puerto Rico. He was instrumental in founding the School of Tropical Medicine in Puerto Rico that later transformed into the school of medicine.

Kurtis is also an expert in schistosomiasis immunity, and he has led extensive population-based studies in the Philippines, China, Kenya, Tanzania and Brazil. His research is funded under a series of grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Gates Grand Challenges in Global Health. Chandy John, MD, director of the Ryan White Center for Pediatric Infectious Disease and Global Health at Indiana University School of Medicine, nominated Kurtis.

“Dr. Kurtis has made seminal contributions in understanding the modulation of protective immune responses by developmental and nutritional factors and the identification of vaccine candidates for falciparum malaria in the pediatric population,” said John. “His work in these areas is recognized both nationally and internationally for its innovative approaches and overall excellence.”

In addition to serving as principal investigator or co-investigator on six research projects, Kurtis is a prolific writer. His bibliography includes 75 published papers, and he has delivered more than 50 academic presentations. He serves on the editorial boards of Infection and Immunity and Human Parasitic Diseases as well as an ad hoc reviewer for a number of journals including Nature Communications and the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

At the Alpert Medical School, Kurtis lectures on international health, parasitology, coagulation and pharmacology. The university has awarded him the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching 12 times.

Kurtis earned his bachelor’s degree and medical degree as well as a PhD from Brown University. He is a National Research Council fellow and a recipient of a Becton-Dickinson tropical medicine research award.  

Christina Spaight O'Reilly

Senior Public Relations Officer
Rhode Island Hospital