Dr. Andrew Lackner, a decorated HIV/AIDS researcher and head of Tulane University's National Primate Research Center near Covington, died Saturday after a brief illness, school officials said. He was 57.
Lackner had been director of the Primate Research Center, one of seven such centers in the United States, since 2001. The center has a colony of about 5,000 monkeys, mostly rhesus macaques, that are used to support research into a variety of diseases, including HIV/AIDS, Zika, Ebola and West Nile.
Lackner's work at the Primate Center was the culmination of a lauded scientific career. Before coming to Tulane, he was a professor at Harvard's medical school for eight years in the 1990s. He received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Colorado State University in 1984 and a Ph.D. four years later from the University of California, Davis.
"He was a superb scientist," said Lee Hamm, dean of Tulane's medical school. "He was full of intellectual energy, always trying to solve problems."
An animal clinic worker at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Covington has test…
Lackner's tenure wasn't without controversies, however. The most significant of those was the infection, in late 2014, of several monkeys with Burkholderia pseudomallei, a potentially lethal bacterium native to southeast Asia.
That prompted an investigation by both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and led to the suspension of the center's permit to conduct research on certain dangerous pathogens.
The investigation concluded that researchers at the center were ignoring basic biosafety protocols. The federal agencies demanded a corrective plan, which the center provided. The permit was eventually restored.
Lackner's colleagues said it had been a stressful time but that Lackner handled it with aplomb. The center replaced its biosafety director in the wake of the probe, revised policies and retrained staff.
During it all, the center's work went on, and grant funding continued apace.
His colleagues also praised Lackner for being genuinely interested in furthering the careers of those who worked with him.
"He was always pushing, in a way that was like a caring mentor," said Skip Bohm, who came to the Primate Center around the same time as Lackner and now serves as its assistant director and chief veterinary medical officer. "He really loved to help other scientists do better."
Away from work, Lackner was a voracious reader. He also loved to drive his 1967 Mustang convertible, which was originally purchased by his father and was kept in "pristine condition" by Lackner, said Mark Alise, the chief of operations at the center. On days with good weather, Lackner would drive the car to work.
He reportedly told one of the nurses who cared for him during his illness, "If you want to make me feel better, go get the car and let's drive around the parking lot with the top down," Bohm recalled.
Survivors include his wife, Cathy; three children, Maren, Jacob and Meghan; and two grandsons.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete.