AUSTIN, Texas — A research center at The University of Texas at Austin will be renamed for Dr. John Ring LaMontagne, a scientist who combated flu and other infectious diseases to improve public health around the globe. The renaming of the existing Center for Infectious Disease follows more than $7 million in contributions by the LaMontagne community of family, friends and colleagues in celebration of his work within the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“This is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Dr. LaMontagne, who helped advance the fight against some of the world’s most devastating diseases in his leading role within the National Institutes of Health,” said Linda Hicke, dean of the College of Natural Sciences. “The center began with a commitment to transformative research into the cause and spread of disease, and it will continue, as the John Ring LaMontagne Center for Infectious Disease, translating groundbreaking research discoveries into better health outcomes for patients and populations.”
Originally established in 2013, the LaMontagne Center for Infectious Disease acts as a bridge between research and clinical and public health practice. Its focus on interdisciplinary research throughout UT Austin, including collaboration with the new Dell Medical School, extends to the study of a wide variety of bacterial and viral diseases, their treatments and prevention. The director of the center is Dr. Marvin Whiteley, a professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences.
Prior to his death in 2004, John Ring LaMontagne was deputy director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a center within the NIH. As an infectious disease biologist and agency administrator, LaMontagne spent decades battling dangerous diseases including influenza, tuberculosis, malaria, whooping cough, swine flu, childhood diarrhea, pneumonia and AIDS.
“John was passionate and dedicated to making this a healthier world,” Dr. LaMontagne’s wife Elaine LaMontagne said. “I know he would be truly honored and pleased with this prestigious naming at his beloved alma mater.”
LaMontagne received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in microbiology at The University of Texas at Austin in 1965 and 1967 and a Ph.D. from Tulane University. He joined the NIH in 1976 as its first influenza program officer after managing clinical trials of a vaccine for swine flu. In 1986, he led the agency’s response to the AIDS crisis, and the following year he became the director of the Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. There he developed a comprehensive initiative to address emerging diseases and re-emerging ones such as measles. He ultimately was appointed deputy director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, responsible for developing an effective plan to vaccinate children against diarrhea-causing diseases that cause millions of serious illnesses and about 1 out of every 5 child deaths worldwide each year.
LaMontagne provided expertise to inform the nation’s strategy on biodefense. He organized an international response to malaria and multiple vaccination efforts. After his death, family, friends and colleagues donated more than $1 million to establish the John Ring LaMontagne Memorial Chair in Infectious Diseases and Global Health, which today supports the activities of the research center.
The College of Natural Sciences will celebrate the center’s renaming March 29 in conjunction with its annual John R. LaMontagne Lecture hosted at UT Austin. Penny Heaton, director of vaccine development for the Global Health Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will speak at the event.