In Memoriam: Sherif Zaki, MD, PhD 1955-2021

Dr. Sherif Zaki, the Chief of the Infectious Disease Pathology Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, poses for a portrait at his office in Atlanta. CREDIT: Raymond McCrea Jones

ASIP Member Sherif Zaki, MD, PhD a founder and chief of the Infectious Disease Pathology Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, passed away suddenly on Sunday, November 21at an Atlanta hospital. He was 65.

Dr. Zaki, helped diagnose previously unknown infectious diseases around the world, including influenza and other viral and bacterial illnesses. He was both a physician and a PhD scientist and sought to solve a host of medical mysteries. As the founder and chief of the CDC’s Infectious Disease Pathology Branch, he was at the forefront of efforts to identify numerous deadly diseases, including the hantavirus, West Nile virus, the Ebola and Zika viruses, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the current global pandemic of covid-19.

Through the use of immunohistochemistry, a method of staining microscopic cells to identify foreign pathogens that can cause illness, Dr. Zaki made advances in identifying little-known or mutating diseases. For the past 18 months, he and his staff were working overtime on SARS-CoV-2 — the coronavirus that causes covid-19. In addition to his work at the CDC, Dr. Zaki taught at Emory, contributed chapters to medical books and was the author or co-author of more than 400 scientific papers. He traveled around the world, helping other pathologists learn his research methods.

Zaki attended Egypt’s Alexandria University, from which he received his medical degree in 1978 and a master’s degree in pathology. He did his medical residency in Egypt, then came to United States and eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He received a doctorate in experimental pathology in 1989 from Emory University in Atlanta.

He had a photographic memory and a knack for cracking hard cases and has been an ASIP member since 1990.

CDC Pathology Investigator Dies Unexpectedly at 65

Sherif Zaki, founder and chief of the Infectious Disease Pathology Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, passed away suddenly on Sunday (November 21), according to an email sent to agency staff by National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases Director Rima Khabbaz and shared with The Scientist.