Stuart Levy, a researcher and physician at Tufts University known for pioneering research on agriculture’s role in antibiotic resistance, died September 4. To many, Levy’s passing is a reminder of the power of visionary scientists in locating solutions—and preventing crises—in the food system.
Levy grew up in Wilmington, Delaware as the son of a doctor who made house calls. After attending Williams College and earning an English degree, Levy went onto medical school at the University of Pennsylvania.
On leave, Levy met Tsutomy Watanbe, a Japanese scientist, who introduced him to transferrable drug-resistance genes between bacterium—even across species. Doctors had been detecting that antibiotics were losing effectiveness against deadly infections, but didn’t understand the threat antibiotic resistance posed. In 1971, Levy joined the Tufts School of Medicine’s faculty and in 1976, published a study that showed chickens consuming antibiotic-laden feed developed highly antibiotic-resistant intestinal bacteria—that also transferred to farmworkers.
“These data speak strongly against the unqualified and unlimited use of drug feeds in animal husbandry and speak for re-evaluation of this form of widespread treatment of animals,” write Levy and his colleagues in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Through 250 papers, four books, and numerous media appearances, Levy strove to educate scientists and the public about using antibiotics responsibly. Levy is also credited with the literature that convinced the United States Food and Drug Administration to limit antimicrobial drug use on agricultural animals, inspired the U.S. to develop a National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria and the World Health Organization’s prioritization of antimicrobial resistance as one of the top threats in global health.
“Stuart Levy was a towering figure,” says Ralph Isberg, professor of molecular biology and microbiology at the Tufts School of Medicine. “Not because of his physical stature but because of the force of his ideas.”
Levy’s initiatives and organizations were emblematic of the role he took in his scientific exploration—raising awareness about a looming health crisis nationally. Levy co-founded Paratek Pharmaceuticals to create a drug to which target bacteria were not resistant and to push hospitals to manage their antibiotic use responsibly. Levy’s Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, co-founded in 1981, joined infectious disease specialists to call attention to antibiotic-resistance and its potential impacts.
In addition to his impactful research, colleagues will remember Levy for his upbeat personality, positivity, and pristine bow ties.
Photo courtesy of The Scientist magazine.