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Dr. Janko Nikolich Named AZ Bioscience Researcher of the Year

  • October 26, 2021

Janko Nikolich-Žugich, MD, PhD, an internationally recognized immunologist and gerontologist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson and member of the BIO5 Institute, has received the Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year award from the Arizona Bioindustry Association  for his work on aging, immunology and COVID-19 testing and prevention. 

The award is given to a life science researcher in Arizona who has made the most significant contribution to the advancement of knowledge and the understanding of biological processes, as measured by publications or professional acknowledgement of their work in academic or commercial settings. The award was presented to Dr. Nikolich during Arizona Bioscience Week in early October.   

Janko Nikolich-Žugich, MD, PhD“Through his own longstanding research accomplishments and his ability to collaborate with other researchers and clinicians in various disciplines, Dr. Nikolich has made scientific advancements resulting in major impacts on the health and wellness of Arizonans,” said Michael M. I. Abecassis, MD, MBA, dean of the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson.  “What he and his colleagues accomplished in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is remarkable, and for this and many other reasons, Dr. Nikolich is highly deserving of this prestigious award.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique challenge for researchers including Dr. Nikolich, who last year used his expertise in immunology to create a highly accurate COVID-19 antibody test that was quickly deployed throughout Arizona. The test, developed by Dr. Nikolich in collaboration with colleagues at UArizona Health Sciences, is helping public health officials better understand the spread of COVID-19, as well as answering important questions about the longevity of immunity provided by antibodies. 

In related work, Dr. Nikolich is using his expertise in gerontology and immunology to identify the biological mechanisms that make older adults more vulnerable to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. His research may produce valuable insights that could help with the development of vaccines or other means of protecting seniors and other vulnerable populations from COVID-19. “It is critical to understand whether the response to the SARS-CoV-2 in older adults is of the same strength, breadth (coverage of virus variants), sensitivity and durability as in the general, younger population, and if not, to determine what we can to do improve it,” said Dr. Nikolich. 

Dr. Nikolich joined the College of Medicine-Tucson in 2008 as chair of the college’s Department of Immunobiology and co-director of the University of Arizona Center on Aging. He has published more than 180 papers in peer-reviewed journals and received more than $73 million in grant awards from the National Institutes of Health. 

Dr. Nikolich earned his bachelor’s, doctorate and medical degrees at the University of Belgrade in Serbia. “I am very much honored by this award, that belongs not only to me, but also to my colleagues and trainees who have worked tirelessly to address the COVID-19 pandemic and immune aging.”