Vol 61 No 3 2021
Dr. Sherif Zaki
In Loving Memory of Dr. Sherif Zaki
By Dr. Ghazi Zaatari
On November 21, 2021, the Pathology World Community lost prematurely one of its greatest scholars in Pathology of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Sherif Zaki, Chief, Centers of Disease Control (CDC) Infectious Disease Pathology Branch.
Sherif Ramzy Zaki was born on November 24, 1955, in Alexandria, Egypt; he had his medical education at the University of Alexandria (1978) before travelling to the United States to pursue a PhD in experimental pathology having received a scholarship from the Egyptian government. At Emory University in Atlanta, he completed his graduate (1989) and postgraduate medical studies in pathology. This is where I first met Sherif during my tenure at Emory and was immediately impressed by his tremendous enthusiastic drive to pursue his higher education.
After passing his boards, the director at CDC Pathology Unit asked him to join the service and in few years he became the founding chief of the Infectious Disease Pathology Branch. By utilizing histopathologic, immunohistochemical, electron microscopy, and molecular diagnostic tools, he and his co-workers successfully turned it into one of the leading diagnostic centers for infectious diseases worldwide.
Today, this unique service provides consultation to pathologists, medical examiners, clinicians, and epidemiologists across the United States and around the world on cases of disease caused by various bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic agents.
This highly specialized Laboratory became the place to seek its input for investigating challenging and poorly understood emerging infections. The work of Dr. Sherif and his team became legendary and it contributed to the identification of the first Hantavirus outbreak in the US, characterizing West Nile and the Ebola viral infections, the finding of Zika virus in the brains of Brazilian babies who died shortly after birth, and helping determine how the disease passed from mother to fetus.
More recently they tackled the coronavirus outbreak, investigating breakthrough infections and tissue damage caused by SARS. Because of these remarkable achievements, Dr. Zaki received the US Department of Health and Human Services’ highest honor, the Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service, nine times.
His death was mourned by all his coworkers and superiors. In her statement, the CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stated that “Dr. Zaki was critical in diagnosing unexplained illness and outbreaks that allowed CDC and public health to respond more quickly and save lives.”
Dr. Frederick A. Murphy, a former CDC scientist who discovered the Ebola virus, once called Dr. Zaki “a national treasure … absolutely the best of his kind.” A CDC friend, Dr. Pierre Rollin, commented that “He had this knowledge that will be difficult to replace.” Dr. James LeDuc, the recently retired director of the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch lamented that “He really was kind of the secret weapon for a lot of what was done at CDC on emerging diseases.”
Those of us who came to know or work with Dr. Sherif can attest to his wealth of knowledge but also to his warmth, calm kind character, exceptional modesty and commitment to help anytime you knock at his door. He has enthusiastically participated in the educational activities of the Arab Division of IAP and most recently he was a keynote speaker at IAP 2018 Congress that was held at the Dead Sea in Jordan. Dr. Sherif will be dearly missed by his friends and coworkers. We are deeply saddened by his early death. Dr. Sherif is survived by his wife Nadia and two children, Yasmin and Samy.
May God bless his soul for all the good he has done in science and to fellow human beings and may he rest in eternal peace.