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NC State Veterinary Medicine Infectious Disease Expert Birkenheuer to Receive Distinguished Chair

Adam Birkenheuer
Adam Birkenheuer will receive the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine's second distinguished chair. Photo by John Joyner/NC State Veterinary Medicine.

Adam Birkenheuer, professor of internal medicine at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine, has been selected for the newly endowed Andy Quattlebaum Distinguished Chair in Infectious Disease Research. 

Birkenheuer is the second faculty member to receive a distinguished chair at the CVM, joining Natasha Olby, the Dr. Kady M. Gjessing and Rahna M. Davidson Distinguished Chair in Gerontology and professor of neurology and neurosurgery.

Birkenheuer is an internationally recognized expert on vector-borne infections of dogs and cats, most commonly spread by fleas, ticks and lice. That includes diseases caused by the Bartonella bacterium and babesiosis, the latter a previously unrecognized small animal disease discovered in canines by Birkenheuer and his research team. Birkenheuer received his Ph.D. in immunology from NC State and his DVM from the University of Florida. 

Andy Quattlebaum loved the outdoors and animals, especially his beloved dog, Oak. The distinguished chair dedicated to infectious disease research that will benefit animals seemed to be a perfect way to honor Andy and his beloved companion.

“The Andy Quattlebaum Distinguished Chair will be able to honor Andy’s love for animals,” Birkenheuer says. “Endowed funding at this level will not only directly help animals by allowing us to perform companion animal infectious disease research to benefit dogs and cats, it will help us train and support the next generation of clinicians and scientists. As 2020 has shown us, new infectious diseases are always right around the corner or just a plane ride away.” 

Adam Birkenheuer
Birkenheuer specializes in vector-borne infectious diseases impacting companion animals and humans. Photo by John Joyner/NC State Veterinary Medicine

Combined with other funding sources, the $2.5 million required to establish a distinguished chair was created with a gift of $500,000 from Don and Hayden Quattlebaum of Pawleys Island, South Carolina, in honor of their son, Andy, who died in 2019 at the age of 22. The funds came through the Andy Quattlebaum and Blackwell Family Foundation. 

“Endowed distinguished professorships and chairs, such as the Andy Quattlebaum Distinguished Chair, are essential to NC State’s success as a university,” says Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Warwick Arden. “They allow us to recognize, reward and retain extraordinary faculty like Dr. Birkenhauer.”

Other funding sources include significant assistance from The ALSAM Foundation, which was combined with the Quattlebaum’s gift to reach the $1 million level, prompting a matching gift of $1 million from the R.B. Terry, Jr. Charitable Foundation.

Additional matching funds in the amount of $667,000 will come from the Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund, creating a $2,667,000 distinguished chair endowment.

A ceremony formally presenting the distinguished professorship to Birkenheuer will be held at the CVM on August 11. 

Birkenheuer’s long-standing dedication to the detection and treatment of infectious diseases in dogs and cats has led to remarkable breakthroughs at NC State. A good example is Cytauxzoonosis, a tick-borne, malaria-like illness that, if left untreated, has an extremely high mortality rate. 

The disease was once considered rare – it was first detected in the late 1970s – but it increased in frequency as the distribution area of the ticks that carry it grew. This infection is believed to have jumped species from bobcats to domestic cats.

Birkenheuer and collaborator Leah Cohn from the University of Missouri developed a new treatment that raised the Cytauxzoonosis survival rate from less than 25 percent to 60 percent. With the help of NC State plant pathologist David Bird, they sequenced the parasite’s genome and worked with some of the world’s top malaria research groups to develop a vaccine against this infection.

Birkenheuer is a diplomate of American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, a recipient of a Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, and was previously presented with a Coat of Excellence for providing exceptional clinical care at the NC State Veterinary Hospital.

“I could not be prouder of professor Birkenheuer’s accomplishments, and this chair is the best way to recognize his selfless commitment to fighting disease,” says CVM Dean Paul Lunn. “Adam is a scientific innovator, a brilliant clinician and a gifted educator.” 

Increasing the number of named and endowed professorships and chairs is a key priority of NC State University’s Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign. Since the launch of the campaign, generous supporters have endowed an additional 100 distinguished professorships and chairs, to date. 

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine