A Statement From the Leadership of the Global Virus Network on the Passing of Renowned Chinese Virologist Yi Zeng

A top cancer researcher and leader in public service is mourned

Baltimore, Maryland, USA, July 23, 2020:  The Global Virus Network (GVN), a coalition comprised of the world’s preeminent human and animal virologists from 55 Centers of Excellence and 10 Affiliates in 32 countries, collectively mourns the passing of Professor Yi Zeng, MD, Academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, former President of the Chinese Academy of the Preventive  Medicine and former Dean of the College of Life Science and Bioengineering at Beijing University of Technology. Prof. Zeng was best known for establishing the relationship of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and nasopharynx cancer, developing EBV serologic tests for nasopharynx cancer early diagnosis, and discovering the first example of co-carcinogenesis in humans, when the combination of EBV  infection and particular carcinogenic products derived from Chinese medicines and foods common to Southern China caused nasopharyngeal carcinoma.  Prof. Zeng was a founding Center Director of China’s Global Virus Network Center of Excellence and hosted GVN’s 7th International Meeting in Beijing, China in 2015.

“Prof. Yi Zeng’s loss is a tremendous one not just for China, but all of his colleagues around the world,” said Robert Gallo, MD, The Homer & Martha Gudelsky Distinguished Professor in Medicine, Co-Founder and Director, Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Co-Founder and Chairman of the International Scientific Leadership Board of the Global Virus Network (GVN). “In 2012, IHV faculty unanimously voted to honor Prof. Zeng for his lifetime of leadership in virology and cancer research.  We are saddened by this immense loss and extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”

“We will deeply miss Prof. Yi Zeng, whose scientific vision and commitment to the GVN have been at the heart of the cooperation with China,” said Christian Bréchot, MD, PhD, President of GVN and Professor at the University of South Florida.

“We are all saddened by the passing of Prof. Yi Zeng, the former president of the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, which is the predecessor of China CDC,” said George F. Gao, DVM, DPHIL (OXON), Director General of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC). “He was a true founder of modern Chinese disease control and prevention and public health infrastructure. He will be remembered as a great scientist, a good friend and a thoughtful mentor.”

Prof. Zeng made great achievements by pioneering, two important virology research areas in China, including, tumor virology and HIV,” said Yiming Shao, MD, the Chief Expert on AIDS, China CDC, who was Prof. Zeng’s first Doctor Degree student.  “Prof. Zeng transformed tumor virology through early diagnosis of cancer, thereby saving countless lives.  He also identified the first HIV/AIDS cases and developed initial diagnostic tools in China while educating his countrymen on AIDS prevention.”

In the early 1970s, Prof. Zeng researched the relationship of the EBV and nasopharynx cancer, established a series of EBV serologic test methods for nasopharynx cancer and increased the diagnosis rate of nasopharynx cancer at the early stage from 20-30% to 80-90%. His serological index could predict the occurrence possibility of nasopharynx cancer 5 to 10 years in advance.  He discovered carcinogens in Chinese herbal medicines and foods in areas with a high incidence of nasopharynx cancer in conjunction with EBV to cause nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Prof. Zeng was also the first to establish cell lines from nasopharynx cancers with high differentiation and low differentiation and was the first in the world to prove that the human fetal nasopharyngeal mucus tissues infected with EBV, under cooperative function of carcinogen TPA and butyric acid, could develop human nasopharynx cancer in rodents. This finding provided the first direct evidence that the EB virus could induce nasopharynx cancer and at the same time provided models for studying multiple factors of nasopharynx cancer pathogenesis and their mechanisms.  Since 1984, Prof. Zeng conducted research on HIV and AIDS and proved the introduction of HIV into China by identifying the first cases of AIDS and HIV infection and isolating the first HIV-1 virus in the country. He isolated the first Chinese HIV-1 virus in 1987 and established the rapid diagnosis method for HIV.  Prof. Zeng, with his late wife Prof. Zelin Li, also discovered Chinese herbal medicines that had a high inhibitory activity of HIV replication.

“For over five decades, Prof. Zeng was a leading virologist in China,” said Lishan Su, PhD, Professor of Immunology and Virology. Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Prof. Su honored Prof. Zeng with a special lecture when he received the IHV’s 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award in Public Service. “His pioneering work in basic/clinical research on human viruses, including EBV and HIV and on public health policy, has saved millions of human lives. Prof. Zeng also played a critical role in establishing/leading the first institute of modern medical virology to train a generation of outstanding molecular virologists. He has been respected by all, will be missed and remembered in China and around the world.”

GVN is a global authority and resource for the identification and investigation, interpretation and explanation, control and suppression, of viral diseases posing threats to mankind. It enhances the international capacity for reactive, proactive and interactive activities that address mankind-threatening viruses and addresses a global need for coordinated virology training through scholarly exchange programs for recruiting and training young scientists in medical virology. The GVN also serves as a resource to governments and international organizations seeking advice about viral disease threats, prevention or response strategies, and GVN advocates for research and training on virus infections and their many disease manifestations.

About the Global Virus Network (GVN)

The Global Virus Network (GVN) is essential and critical in the preparedness, defense and first research response to emerging, exiting and unidentified viruses that pose a clear and present threat to public health, working in close coordination with established national and international institutions. It is a coalition comprised of eminent human and animal virologists from 55 Centers of Excellence and 10 Affiliates in 32 countries worldwide, working collaboratively to train the next generation, advance knowledge about how to identify and diagnose pandemic viruses, mitigate and control how such viruses spread and make us sick, as well as develop drugs, vaccines and treatments to combat them. No single institution in the world has expertise in all viral areas other than the GVN, which brings together the finest medical virologists to leverage their individual expertise and coalesce global teams of specialists on the scientific challenges, issues and problems posed by pandemic viruses. The GVN is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, please visit www.gvn.org. Follow us on Twitter @GlobalVirusNews


Media Contact:
Nora Samaranayake, GVN
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