Dr. Sherif R. Zaki, who discovered methods to fight superbugs, dies at 65

Dr. Sherif R. Zaki, whose research and expertise in detecting and treating infections brought him acclaim as a leading medical pioneer, died at home in Washington on Tuesday. He was 65.

The cause was prostate cancer, his daughter, Deena Rahim, told The Washington Post.

A third-generation physician, Dr. Zaki began his career at the National Cancer Institute in the mid-1970s as part of a team that pioneered use of an experimental method of analyzing breath samples for pathogens. The method, known as pharamicroscopy, led to a dramatically reduced use of expensive laboratory equipment, and the global approach of using the method in hospitals has been hailed by health-care experts as providing timely, comprehensive and cost-effective diagnostics for the vast majority of patients.

Since then, Dr. Zaki’s work at the FDA and Health and Human Services included discoveries on how to reduce the spread of bacteria, especially antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” in medical settings. He invented a way to reduce bacterial infection by improving the use of cotton swabs. He developed a test that could pinpoint a patient’s infection as well as detect any other infectious disease. In 2001, a team of scientists and physicians including Dr. Zaki used pharamicroscopy to detect the superbug MRSA in a New York hospital as part of a study to collect his “most important contribution” to fighting the infection, his first full-time position at the agency, the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Dr. Zaki’s most recent reporting project was at NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where he performed significant scientific work on a treatment for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Dr. Zaki was born in Chicago on May 2, 1956, and was raised in suburban Chicago. His father was a physician and his mother an elementary school teacher. He graduated from Brigham Young University and Harvard Medical School.

He worked as a young man for the Boy Scouts of America, doing clinical research for them in the wards of local hospitals, and he spent three years as an infectious disease specialist for the American Medical Association. He also served as medical director of the national organization Doctors for the Homeless, and he was a founding member of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

Dr. Zaki was also a dedicated member of the Islamic Medical Association of North America.

He is survived by his wife, Jean, of Washington; daughters Deena Rahim and Sumaiya Suresh, both of Washington; son Ali R. Zaki, of Lincoln, Neb.; and seven grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

The Washington Post

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