From left are Kendall Muzzarelli, Andrew Jerome, Dr. Richard Righthand, Dr. Ameer Righthand, Ashley Anderson and Dr. Phil Pellett.
As part of the inaugural Vera Fay Righthand Seminar in Virology, family, friends and colleagues gathered May 1 at the Wayne State University School of Medicine's Scott Hall to celebrate the legacy of the late Vera Fay Righthand, Ph.D., while honoring three students who will continue her legacy of innovation and research through the Vera Fay Righthand Fellowship in Virology.
Dr. Righthand joined WSU's then-named Department of Microbiology in 1968 as an accomplished scientist with a doctorate from Rutgers University, where she worked on the molecular biology of the Rous Sarcoma Virus, demonstrating for the first time that viruses could cause cancer. She also completed a postdoctoral fellowship on virus cellular interrelationships at SUNY Buffalo, where she worked with the Salk polio inactivated subcutaneous vaccine and the Sabin live attenuated oral vaccine.
She retired with emeritus status in 1998 after 31 years of service to Wayne State University. Dr. Righthand, who died in 2015, pushed the envelope of the scientific community's knowledge and understanding of microbiology and virology.
Thanks to a gift made through her estate, the fellowship provides financial assistance for School of Medicine doctoral candidates conducting virology research. Her generosity allows the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry to attract promising students to follow in Dr. Righthand's inspiring footsteps. With the annual award, Dr. Righthand secured a future in which her life's work can continue, helping to advance health care protocols and procedures that will enhance the quality of life in Michigan and around the world.
The 2017-2018 recipients were Ashley Anderson (mentor: Philip Pellett, Ph.D.) and Andrew Jerome (mentor: Susmit Suvas, Ph.D.). The 2018-2019 awardees are Ashley Anderson and Kendall Muzzarelli (mentor: Ladislau Kovari, Ph.D.).
New Jersey-based internist Richard Righthand, M.D., Dr. Righthand's nephew, and his wife Ameer, traveled from their home state to attend the event.
"My aunt dedicated her life to all of you. She loved all of you, and through this gift has put all of you first, which was her way. I look forward to seeing all of you continue this effort on behalf of my aunt," Dr. Righthand said.
While at Wayne State University, Dr. Righthand maintained an active virological research program and trained numerous doctoral students. Among other honors, Dr. Righthand was elected a fellow of the National Academy of Microbiology and received the Lawrence Weiner Award for her contributions to research, teaching and administration at the School of Medicine.
"Dr. Righthand gave me a tremendous amount of help when I first got here in 1984," said Associate Professor and Fellowship Committee Chair Tom Holland, Ph.D., whose lab was next to Dr. Righthand's. "One of the best things about Fay was her sense of humor. She also helped me understand virology as a discipline."
Fellowship funds may be used for student stipends, tuition, and medical, dental and vision insurance. Any residual funds may be used to support the scientific activities of the fellow. This includes travel to scientific meetings at which the fellow is making a presentation. Applicants must be Wayne State University School of Medicine doctorate students working in the field of virology. The fellows must have completed the first year of their doctoral program in good standing and have begun research in their intended dissertation laboratory.
The seminar portion of the event was given by the University of Pennsylvania's James Alwine, Ph.D., a distinguished virologist who worked on the virus SV40 during the period Dr. Righthand was also working on the virus.
The seminar was followed by a luncheon and reception in Scott Hall, which also welcomed new department faculty member Eric Sebzda, Ph.D.