Interim Executive Director Named For Fralin Life Sciences Institute

X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and professor of internal medicine at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, has been named interim executive director for Fralin Life Sciences Institute, effective Dec. 6, 2021.

Meng’s appointment follows the announcement that Matt Hulver, the current executive director and professor of human nutrition, foods, and exercise, has accepted the position as vice president for research at Arizona State University.

“It is an honor and privilege to be asked to lead the Fralin Life Sciences Institute during this important transition. I have been an affiliated faculty member of the institute since its inception,” said Meng. “My own research program and professional development as a faculty member have benefited tremendously through the support provided by the institute. I know firsthand how essential and important the work at the Fralin Life Sciences Institute is to Virginia Tech and the broader scientific community.”

The Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech is an instrument of strategic university investment committed to enhancing the quality, quantity, and competitiveness of life sciences research, education, and outreach across the university and the world. Faculty that actively participate in institute-sponsored activities, including participation in institute-funded centers and focus areas, use core facilities housed and supported by the institute.

In his new role, Meng will continue to shape the institute’s strategic vision by leveraging existing strengths to enhance resources for Virginia Tech’s life sciences community. Meng will report to the vice president of Virginia Tech’s Office of Research and Innovation.

“I look forward to working collaboratively with colleges, departments and other Institutes within the Virginia Tech life science community during this transition period and to further advance the mission of the Institute,” Meng said.

Meng joined the Virginia Tech community in 1999 as an assistant professor of molecular virology, rose to the rank of professor in 2007, and was honored as the first faculty member at the veterinary college to be named University Distinguished Professor in 2013.

Meng is a member of the National Academy of Sciencesa Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

“For over two decades, Dr. X.J. Meng has been an icon of research excellence at Virginia Tech,” said Virginia Tech Vice President for Research and Innovation Dan Sui. “The combination of X.J.’s broad scientific vision, leadership experiences in team science and convergence research, and deep institutional knowledge, have uniquely positioned him to lead the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at this critical time.”

The world-renowned researcher’s work focuses on emerging and reemerging viral diseases that impact veterinary and human public health. Meng is widely considered one of the world’s leading scientists in hepatitis E virus, porcine circovirus type 2, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.

Since joining Virginia Tech, Meng has been awarded more than 55 research grants as the principal investigator totaling more than $21 million. Additionally, Meng also served as co-principal investigator or co-investigator on 65 other funded grants totaling more than $33 million.

“X.J.’s pioneering work investigating viral infectious diseases in people and animals has elevated the visibility of research at Virginia Tech addressing the inextricable linkages between human, animal and environmental health,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke. “As a University Distinguished Professor and member of the National Academy of Sciences, he has earned the respect of faculty across the university and can effectively guide and advance the Fralin Life Sciences Institute through this important leadership transition.”

Meng has published more than 349 peer-reviewed scientific papers, reviews, and book chapters. According to Essential Science Indicators, Meng was ranked in the top 1 percent of highly cited scientists from 1997 to 2007 in the field of microbiology. Meng’s publications have been cited for more than 31,714 times with a h-index of 92.

A notable innovator, Meng is an inventor on 25 awarded and 18 pending U.S. patents on various vaccines against important virus diseases. Meng’s lab developed the first U.S. Department of Agriculture fully licensed vaccine to protect against porcine circovirus type 2 infection and its associated diseases in pigs, a major threat to the global swine industry. Since 2006, the vaccine has been sold in more than 50 countries and has saved the global swine industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

In addition, Meng discovered the swine hepatitis E virus in pigs, which led to the recognition of human hepatitis E as a zoonotic disease that annually affects more than 20 million people worldwide and causes more than 44,000 deaths per year, according to the World Health Organization. For decades, Meng and his lab at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine have continued to study the virus with the support of the National Institutes of Health.

As the founding director of the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic, and Arthropod-borne Pathogens, one of the four research centers affiliated with the institute, Meng and researchers from seven Virginia Tech colleges are working to advance transformative science and develop effective countermeasures against emerging infectious diseases, positioning Virginia Tech as an international research leader in this field.

In an ongoing research project, Meng is collaborating with UVA researchers to develop a candidate vaccine using an innovative vaccine platform targeting a highly conserved genomic region of coronaviruses that could provide protection against the COVID-19 virus and other coronaviruses, with findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Meng’s legacy extends to the classroom. During his tenure, Meng has successfully trained 21 graduate students as their major professor and 24 postdoctoral fellows. He taught Molecular Virology, Emerging Infectious Diseases I and II courses, and is currently an instructor for the Veterinary Virology course. Meng has served on the graduate advisory committees for more than 63 graduate students. His former graduate students and postdoctoral fellows have secured faculty and research positions at various universities and federal government agencies such as The Ohio State University, Iowa State University, North Dakota State University, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Meng currently serves as editor-in-chief or editor for five prestigious international journals: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mBio, Virus Research, Veterinary Microbiology, and Animal Health Research and Reviews.

He has held several leadership positions at Virginia Tech and in international and national organizations and committees. At Virginia Tech, Meng was the director of the American Cancer Society Institutional Research Training Grant from 1999 to 2002, director of the National Institutes of Health T32 graduate training grant from 2006 to present, directed the Veterinary College’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree/Ph.D. Dual Degree Graduate Program from 2006 to 2008, and was a member of the president’s advisory council. Meng currently serves on the board of directors of Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc, which is housed in LINK+LICENSE+LAUNCH.

Meng’s national and international service includes chair of the 2017 Summit on Emerging Infections and Preparedness at the National Academy of Sciences, chair of the 2016 American Society for Virology Annual Meeting’s planning committee, acting chair of Section 61’s Veterinary and Wildlife Sciences Discipline of the National Academy of Sciences, chair of the National Institutes of Health’s Special Emphasis Panel IDM-B(15), chair of the Hepatitis Review Section of the U.S. Military Infectious Disease Research Program annual review, chair of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s NC-229 Committee on Swine Respiratory Diseases, and board of directors of the Virginia Academy of Sciences, Medicine and Engineering.

Meng has received more than 30 accolades, including the 2021 Mikhail S. Balayan Medal for significant contribution to the study of hepatitis E, the Inaugural Lorraine J. Hoffman Alumni Award from Iowa State University; the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award, the commonwealth’s highest honor for faculty in Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities, recognizing their commitment to excellence in teaching, research, knowledge integration, and public service; the inaugural Fralin Life Science Institute Senior Faculty Fellow Award, the Virginia Tech Alumni Award for Research Excellence, and the Pfizer Award for Research Excellence, both in 2001 and 2008.

Prior to his arrival at Virginia Tech, he worked as the John E. Fogarty Visiting Scientist and a senior staff fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health.

A native of Gaomi in Shandong province, China, Meng earned a medical degree from Binzhou Medical University; a masters in microbiology and immunology at Wuhan University College of Medicine; and a Ph.D. in immunobiology from Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

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