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Professor Tilahun Yilma

The story of veterinary virologist Professor Tilahun Yilma

Professor Tilahun Yilma is a veterinary virologist at the University of California who genetically engineered a vaccine for a deadly cattle disease and is now working to develop a vaccine for AIDS.  The deadly Rinderpest is an acute infectious viral disease of cattle, which has killed millions of cattle in Africa.


He earned a bachelor's degree in Veterinary Science in 1968, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1970 and a Doctoral Degree in Microbiology in 1977 from the University of California, Davis.


After earning his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1970 from the School of Veterinary Medicine, Professor Yilma returned to Ethiopia and spent two years as a veterinarian tracking the nomadic herders in his campaign to vaccinate Africa 's cattle and eradicate Rinderpest.  As a result, more than 125 million cattle were vaccinated and for several years it appeared that Rinderpest had been eradicated in Africa.  But in 1980, the virus resurfaced in Nigeria and swept back across the Sahara . It killed an estimated $400 million worth of cattle and sapped more than $2 billion in related losses.


The disease went to Africa in 1888 by the Italian troops who invaded Ethiopia in that year.  It is believed that the disease was carried by three infected cows and it spread from Ethiopia 's east coast across the Sahara Desert, killing, in just one year, 90 percent of the domesticated cattle.


In 1997 Professor Yilma's vaccine was approved for widespread use throughout Africa.  It was the first genetically engineered vaccine to be released by a US-funded researcher in a foreign country. Professor Yilma went on to develop inexpensive diagnostic kits for Rinderpest and made them available to African scientists.


He also worked to secure funding for new biotechnology laboratories in developing countries. As a result of his efforts, the US Agency for International Development in 1990 constructed the Laboratory of Molecular Biology for Tropical Diseases in the Egyptian capital Cairo as an offspring of Professor Yilma's own laboratory at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.


Professor Tilahun Yilma was named the 2002 Faculty Research Lecturer by his colleagues at the University of California in Davis, which is the highest honour UC Davis faculty members can bestow upon their peers. He has also been honored with the UC Davis Distinguished Public Service Award in 1994, the School of Veterinary Medicine 's Faculty Award for Research Excellence in 1993 and 1991, and the UC Davis Alumni Achievement Award in 1991. He served from 1980 to 1986 as a faculty member in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology at Washington State University and from 1977 to 1979 as a research associate at the US Department of Agriculture's Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York.


He is the Director of the International Laboratory of Molecular Biology for Tropical Disease Agents and his research efforts are now focused on using similar recombinant-DNA technology to develop a vaccine for AIDS.


Professor Tilahun Yilma's revolutionary scientific research efforts have created a new vaccine, which has already saved and will continue to save the lives of millions of cattle in Africa and in other developing regions of the world whose economies are dependent on Agriculture. His unparalleled scientific excellence is the pride of Ethiopia and Ethiopians praise and honor him.


# Dr.genanew 2013-03-14 21:50
professor forever we the people of Ethiopia never hesitate from ur way and we love u so much.!!!!!!!!!!
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# aytal 2015-11-14 03:41
I hate the cancers - TPLF fascists who are looting, terrorizing and killing for the last 23 years innocent Ethiopians but love Professor Tilahun Yilma - God bless you!
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# yimesgen Tarekegn 2016-04-02 22:40
HI professor Tilahun Yilma ,my name yimesgen Tarekegn and am a veterinary medicine student in jimma university ,when I remember you effort on rindrpest disease in my prparator school I was amazed to now more about you and your works ,am 20 years old now ,and am proud of you professor we love you so much with reaspect.Thank you.
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# Darwin Spartz 2016-06-17 11:14
I just came across an old Sacto Bee article from 2002 about the vaccines that you have developed to save multitudes of cattle in Africa.
We first met when you came to UC Davis in the late 1960's. I don't know if you remember our visits then. It would be great to chat sometime, 916 483 7589
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