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Dr. Keerti Shah, Johns Hopkins scientist who helped create a cervical cancer vaccine, dies

Dr. Keerti V. Shah did pioneering research on cancer at Johns Hopkins.
Dr. Keerti V. Shah did pioneering research on cancer at Johns Hopkins. (HANDOUT)

Dr. Keerti V. Shah, a retired Johns Hopkins scientist who helped established the causality of cervical cancer, died of kidney failure Sunday at his home in Ponce Inlet, Fla. He was 90 and had lived for many years in Original Northwood and Parkville.

Hopkins colleagues said his seminal paper, originally published in the Journal of Pathology in 1999, led to the development of a vaccine for human papillomavirus.

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“Approved in 2006, the HPV vaccine provides 100 percent protection and is the only vaccine available for a major human cancer,” said a Hopkins statement. “This makes Dr. Shah a leading figure in one of the most important and wide-reaching victories in international public health — the connection between human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer.”

Born in India, Dr. Shah was educated at the B.J. Medical College in Poona, graduating in 1951. After coming to Baltimore, he earned a master’s degree in public health and a doctorate in pathology at Johns Hopkins.

“Dr. Shah was a highly productive and valuable member of the Johns Hopkins community at the department, school and university levels,” said the Bloomberg School of Public Health statement. “He was a beloved mentor and served twice as interim chair of what is now the W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology.”

From 1979 to 1982 he was director of the Department of Pathobiology Division of Infectious Disease Biology, and from 1985 to 1994 he was associate chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases.

He discussed his field in The Baltimore Sun.

“Since many HPV infections do not have symptoms, the exact frequency of infection is unknown,” he said in a 1994 interview. “Scientists estimate that 10 percent of young men and women currently have recognized infections, and the rate may be twice this number if those without any symptoms are included.”

Hopkins colleagues said that Dr. Shah wrote more than 400 peer-reviewed publications.

His biography said that in 1962, he joined the faculty of the Department of Pathobiology at what was then the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health with a joint appointment in the Department of Oncology at the School of Medicine.

“My father was a simple person for whom possessions meant little. A car was simply a functional vehicle to him,” said his daughter, Yasmin Shah of Wilmington, N.C. “He had a curious mind. He wanted to understand science, but he also wanted to help people.”

She also said, “He was a collaborative person who was humble and didn’t need credit for the work he did. He treated everyone the same, and he saw the good in people. He was well liked by everyone because he was a particularly good mentor to students. He was also man of integrity.”

He began working with papillomaviruses in the late 1970s, and his international research team conducted a rigorous, case-controlled epidemiological study that showed that HPV caused 99.7 percent of cervical cancers.

The Pan American Society for Clinical Virology awarded Dr. Shah the 2001 Diagnostic Virology Award.

Dr. Shah received the School of Public Heath’s 2004 Ernest Stebbins Medal, the school’s highest honor for contributions to education. He also received the 2016 Global Achievement Award from the Hopkins Alumni Association.

A fan of the Baltimore Colts, Dr. Shah often dined at the old Golden Arm restaurant on York Road, where he met Johnny Unitas. He also read widely and enjoyed works of history, philosophy and biography.

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After retiring to Florida, he exercised regularly at the Port Orange YMCA.

“He was involved very much with a large and loving family and was considered a respected elder in the extended family,” his daughter said.

Dr. Shah is survived by Farida Maniar, his wife of 52 years. She worked at Hopkins in population dynamics. Family members said they were a devoted couple who drove together to their Hopkins offices for many years. In 2007, Dr. Shah and his wife established the Keerti V. Shah Fund to support students in the area of translational research in infectious diseases.

In addition to Dr. Shah’s wife and daughter, survivors include two sons, Vikram Shah of Oviedo, Fla. and Ashok Shah of Columbia; and four grandchildren.

Services are private.

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