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Watertown native is honorary member of Institute of Experimental Medicine in Russia

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A Watertown native has joined the company of such esteemed microbiologists as Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister and Robert Koch as an honorary member of the Institute of Experimental Medicine in St. Petersburg, Russia.

P. Patrick Cleary, a former paperboy for the Watertown Daily Times and a 1960 graduate of Watertown High School, recently retired as a professor of microbiology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, where he started working in 1972.

“I believe that my success as a scientist reflects the strong education I received at Watertown High,” Mr. Cleary said.

He said he is humbled to be in such esteemed company as Mr. Pasteur, who discovered bacteria, Mr. Lister, pioneer of antiseptic surgery, and Mr. Koch, who discovered the cause of tuberculosis, cholera and other diseases.

“Although my contributions to understanding infectious disease are pale compared to those guys, it’s certainly an honor to have my name listed alongside these incredible scientists,” he said.

Mr. Cleary’s research specialty is the molecular basis for streptococci disease, which he called “masters of immune avoidance.”

Streptococci are the most common cause of sore throat and are responsible for such diseases as rheumatic fever, heart diseases and flesh-eating wound infections. His research investigates the molecular and cellular processes that lead to such diseases and infections.

Mr. Cleary was nominated as an honorary member of the Institute of Experimental Medicine by Alexander Suvorov and his nomination was supported by Artem Totolian. Both are scientists at the facility.

Mr. Cleary worked in Mr. Totolian’s lab for six weeks in 1984.

“It was a time when few American scientists collaborated with Soviets,” Mr. Cleary said.

At that time, St. Petersburg was called Leningrad. It reverted to its original name in 1991.

Mr. Cleary said the induction ceremony for honorary members is held every five years. He said only one other American, Joseph Ferretti of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Medicine, has been named an honorary member of the institute.

Mr. Cleary arrived in St. Petersburg on Dec. 19 for his induction. Also inducted at the ceremony as an honorary professor was a Russian scientist.

Mr. Cleary spent five days in Russia. Two of those days were spent sightseeing. He said the induction ceremony was full of “pomp and circumstance.”

“It started out with a string quartet playing Russian music and a six-foot-four baritone singing and acting,” Mr. Cleary said from his home in St. Paul, Minn. “That went on for an hour and then the director of the institute brought me up to the microphone. At about that time, loud music comes on and these three gorgeous Russian women came marching down the aisle carrying this big gown.”

Two of the women put the honorary gown on Mr. Cleary and the third put a mortar board on his head, gave him a bouquet of flowers and kissed him on the cheek.

vaccine inventor

For 20 years in his career, Mr. Cleary studied the proteins that bacteria make in order to avoid our immune defenses. “I discovered a protein which showed that if you vaccinated a mouse with it, it would protect the mouse,” he said.

Mr. Cleary eventually got a patent for the discovery. It’s been patented in 35 countries.

“It’s licensed to Pfizer (pharmaceutical company) and they’re working on a vaccine for the prevention of strep throat,” Mr. Cleary said.

According to the Mayo Clinic, strep throat is most common between the ages of 5 and 15, but it affects people of all ages. If untreated, strep throat can sometimes cause complications such as kidney inflammation, rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

Mr. Cleary said the latest he heard was that the vaccine could be available around 2020. “It’s out of my hands,” he said.

“I can’t speak for Pfizer, but I think they’re not convinced that the market is sufficiently big because they are not convinced pediatricians would use the prescribed vaccine for strep throat because penicillin is effective in treating strep throat,” Mr. Cleary said.

founded in 1890

The Institute of Experimental Medicine was founded by Prince Oldenburgsky in 1890. Ivan Pavlov’s works in the field of physiology of digestion, conducted at the Department of Physiology at the institute, were awarded the Nobel prize in 1904.

Mr. Cleary said there are about 50 honorary members of the Institute of Experimental Medicine, which is part of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences.

“Several of them are real icons of microbiology,” he said. “I’m a little uncomfortable being listed alongside these people.”

Mr. Cleary is the son of the late Mabel I. Huck of Watertown, who died in 2007. His father, William P. Cleary, died in 1946. He has a half-brother, Greg Huck, who lives in Chaumont. A brother, William Cleary, is a former resident of Watertown who now resides in Florida.

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