In Memoriam: Berns, Kenneth Ira

In Memoriam: Berns, Kenneth Ira


Kenneth I. Berns, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at the University of Florida College of Medicine, died Friday, January 26, 2024, in Gainesville, Florida, at the age of 85. Dr. Berns, a virologist known for his ground-breaking work on adeno-associated viruses (AAV), was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1995. 

Dr. Berns’ academic career began as an undergraduate at Harvard, followed by a Ph.D. and MD from Johns Hopkins University. After working at NIH as a Staff Fellow and US Public Health Services officer, he returned to academia as a faculty member at Johns Hopkins, followed by the University of Florida where he became Chair of the Department of Immunology and Medical Microbiology, and later to Cornell Medical School, and then back to the University of Florida where he served as Dean of the College of Medicine and Vice-President of the Health Sciences Center. He served as president of Mount Sinai Medical Center in 2002, and then returned to the University of Florida, where he remained until retirement and post-retirement. He eventually became head of the Genetics Institute at the University of Florida, his last position before retirement, and after retirement in 2012, was named Distinguished Professor Emeritus.

Dr. Berns’ research focused on molecular biology of adeno-associated virus (AAV) infection, including major studies on viral DNA replication, regulation of gene expression, integration of the viral genome, and analysis of the AAV life cycle. His findings were foundational in the initial use of AAV as a gene therapy vector, and led to the subsequent major advances in use and development of AAV gene therapy technique.   

Dr. Berns was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1995. He was a long-time member of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and served as ASM president (1997). He was a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and served on the Academy Board of Governors from 2003-2009. He served as president of the American Society for Virology for academic year 1988-1989, and in 2000, he was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He served on numerous national committees throughout his life, including the National Science Advisory Committee for Biosecurity. He and his wife, Laura Berns, Ph.D., established the Genetics Institute Endowment in 2006 to support teaching, research and programs that enhance the institute’s mission to advance genetics for the benefit of patients, as well as the Ken and Laura Berns Award for Excellence in Genetics in 2015 to recognize graduate students for significant contributions in genetics and genomics.

Dr. Berns is survived by his wife, Laura Berns, and his sister, Karen Newborn, and by his son Jonathan Berns, his daughter Deborah Lingwood, and his two granddaughters Cassandra and Alexandra Berns.

Obituary posted:
February 8, 2024