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Dr. Frank Plummer

Dr. Frank Plummer

Mourning the loss of Dr. Francis Plummer, OC OM FRSC, (MD/76)

February 4, 2020 — 

The University of Manitoba community is in mourning with the sad news that Dr. Francis Plummer, OC OM FRSC, (MD/76), a world-renowned scientist, academic and HIV/AIDS researcher, has passed away at the age of 67 in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was visiting in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Manitoba/Kenya research collaboration.

UM alumnus Dr. Francis Plummer was a University of Manitoba Distinguished Professor of medical microbiology, Distinguished Professor Emeritus and former Canada Research Chair in Resistance and Susceptibility to Infections. He served as senior scientific advisor of the Public Health Agency of Canada, director general of the Centre for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control in Ottawa, and as scientific director general of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

“The work of Dr. Frank Plummer has had a tremendous impact on global public health, and he was a prime example of dedication and passion in one’s profession,” says Dr. David Barnard, UM president and vice-chancellor. “He was admired and regarded highly by academics and researchers around the world, and his legacy of seeking to develop an HIV vaccine remains one of the landmarks of infectious disease prevention.”

Perhaps the most widely known scientific contribution from Dr. Plummer is how he unravelled the mystery surrounding a particular group of women in Kenya who possessed natural immunity to HIV-1, the virus that leads to AIDS. The research focused on their immune systems and genetics to identify the basis for this resistance, and the project provided vital new information for HIV vaccine and drug development. Today, global interventions and campaigns have been built on his work.

Dr. Digvir Jayas, vice-president (research and international) and Distinguished Professor of the University of Manitoba, notes: “Dr. Frank Plummer was an outstanding scientist who contributed to many firsts in the HIV/AIDS research field. His contributions have had a cumulative global impact on saving the lives of tens of thousands of people for decades and also improving the lives of HIV-positive people around the world. He leaves a legacy to be celebrated and cherished by the UM and HIV/AIDS research community.”

Dr. Plummer’s honours were numerous and impressive, including having been made an Officer of the Order of Canada and given the Order of Manitoba. His awards include the McLaughlin Medal of the Royal Society of Canada, the Prix Galien Research Award, the Canada Gairdner Wightman Award for his groundbreaking research in Africa in understanding HIV transmission and his leadership at the Canadian National Microbiology Laboratory with pivotal roles in SARS, influenza and Ebola epidemics, and the Killam Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts. Dr. Plummer was also the most recent recipient of the prestigious Flavelle Medal by the Royal Society of Canada in 2018, for a decade of outstanding contributions to biological science.

“Frank Plummer’s contributions to public health on a global scale were immense. Today we lost a giant,” says Dr. Brian Postl, dean, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences and vice-provost (health sciences) and a fellow classmate of Plummer at UM. “Back in medical school, Frank was clearly a creative thinker and amongst our accomplished MD Class of 1976, distinguished himself as a true leader and visionary.”  

Dr. Keith Fowke, head, medical microbiology & infectious diseases, was a student of Dr. Plummer, who remembers him as a mentor. He says: “Frank’s work was highly innovative and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. He was an outstanding and world-class researcher who was a dear colleague, mentor and friend to many of us lucky enough to work with him, and beside him. He will be dearly missed by us all in the academic and scientific community.”

Dr. Allan Ronald, Dr. Frank Plummer and Dr. Keith Fowke at a January 2020 event marking the 40th anniversary of the University of Manitoba's research partnership with the University of Nairobi. // Image from Jo Kennelly

Dr. Allan Ronald, Dr. Frank Plummer and Dr. Keith Fowke at a January 2020 event marking the 40th anniversary of the University of Manitoba's research partnership with the University of Nairobi. // Image from Jo Kennelly

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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10 comments on “Mourning the loss of Dr. Francis Plummer, OC OM FRSC, (MD/76)

  1. Kim

    Incredibly sad to hear this news. He was a committed and OUTSTANDING researcher. Such a tremendous loss. Condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

  2. Magdaline wairimu

    He was a great scientist he has left a legacy.. may God comfort his family, university of manitoba and all the universities he collaborated with.. fare thee well

  3. Adriana Trajtman

    Dr. Plummer was an outstanding researcher. He was THE MENTOR to many of us. I will be forever grateful for his advice. May his legacy and memory be honored by the scientific society around the world. My sincere condolences to his family, colleagues, and the many patients that he helped and that must be now devastated without his support.

  4. Laura Brown

    We lost a great one this week. He earned the admiration and respect of people around the planet. We will miss him as we battle new illnesses in the coming year. My condolences to his family, colleagues and friends across the globe.

  5. Tom mbuya Omollo

    He was a great scientist, outstanding researcher without limits I will forever miss him, and he came to Africa and scientifically conquered it.
    Name:Tom Mbuya Omollo
    Department of medicine
    College of Health Sciences
    the University of Nairobi.

  6. Dr. MacDuff Ogwido

    In late 80s and early 90s in Nairobi Medical school, Dr. Plummer laid the basis for our understanding of HIV /AIDS. Those lessons still guide our practice 30 years later.

  7. Kathy Beernaert

    Very sorry to hear of the death of Dr. Plummer. His work was so important to public health. Sincere condolences to his family, friends and many colleagues.

  8. ian c p smith

    Frank was an example to all of us: good science, good medicine, teacher to most of us. He had no airs, just smart observations. We were so lucky that he stayed with us when he had many opportunities.

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