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Distinguished Alumna and Alumnus Award

Mary Estes

Mary K. Estes '72 Ph.D.

Mary Estes has made invaluable impacts in virology and microbiology, the field in which she received her doctorate from Carolina. She is the Distinguished Service Professor of Virology and Microbiology and Cullen Foundation Endowed Chair at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Estes also serves as the emeritis founding director of the Texas Medical Center Digestive Diseases Center, the Translational Biology and Molecular Medicine Graduate Program and is a member of the Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Her research on the two most common viruses that cause devastating human diarrhea (rotavirus and norovirus) has markedly advanced our understanding of these viruses and has generated valuable contributions to the treatment and prevention of life-threatening diarrhea throughout the world. Estes has used genetic approaches and developed new assays that have changed our understanding of the biology of these unforgiving microorganisms. Her lab cultured human noroviruses in human intestinal organoids, helped solve the first structure of a calicivirus, produced virus-like particles for both viruses and is using these advances to help develop vaccines for the prevention of life-threatening diarrheal disease. As a nominator wrote, anyone who has experienced a “stomach bug” can appreciate her work.

Estes is a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine and Inventors. Among many other honors, she received the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) Distinguished Achievement Award in 2010, the AGA Distinguished Mentor Award (2018) and the American Society for Microbiology Lifetime Achievement Award (2020).