“Legend of veterinary parasitology” Gene Lyons dies at 86

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Dr Gene Lyons with a patient.
Dr Gene Lyons with a patient.

Dr Gene Lyons, one of the most respected pioneers in the field of veterinary parasitology, has died in the US at the age of 86.

Lyons, who joined University of Kentucky Department of Veterinary Science in 1963, was still working on projects and died while making his research rounds in the early morning at the university.

Eugene Thomas Lyons (May 6, 1931 - December 7, 2017)
Eugene Thomas Lyons (May 6, 1931 – December 7, 2017)

This year, the parasitology research program celebrated its 70 year anniversary – of those 70 years, only 14 were without Lyons.

In his 56-year career his work continues to attract interest in the field of equine helminth infections. He was the first to demonstrate the transmission of helminth parasites from mother seals to their offspring through their milk; this observation was later extended to several equine helminth infections and altered current thinking on the epidemiology of different endoparasitic diseases of the horse.

Lyons specifically described the lactogenic life cycle of the equine threadworm, Strongyloides westeri. Other contributions include describing life cycles of other important parasites, and testing and evaluating every equine dewormer that reached the market, and many that did not. He documented and described anthelmintic resistance in important equine parasites, and he described and evaluated parasite control programs.

His passion for research extended beyond his equine parasitology work as a professor at the Gluck Equine Research Center and in service to local horse farms. He frequently spent his vacations studying parasitology issues in fur seals and sea lions in places such as Alaska, California and Australia.

David Horohov, Gluck Center director and department chair, said Lyons made multiple contributions to the field of parasitology through a lifetime of devotion to his work and a commitment to excellence to this field. “His legacy will include the contributions he has made and the people he has trained,” Horohov said.

Lyons is also known for the importance of his contributions to the field of acquired resistance of small roundworm infections in the horse to various anthelmintic drugs.

Born May 6, 1931 in Yankton, South Dakota, Lyons served in the United States Coast Guard from 1950 to 1953. He received his bachelor’s degree in zoology (wildlife) from South Dakota State University in 1956, his master’s in zoology (parasitology) from Kansas State University in 1958 and his doctorate in zoology (parasitology) in 1963.

Lyons published more than 300 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. He mentored more than a dozen graduate and undergraduate students.

Dr Gene Lyons during his time in the Coast Guard.
Dr Gene Lyons during his time in the Coast Guard.

He also hosted and mentored more than 25 visiting scientists and students in his laboratory throughout his career.

Martin Nielsen, associate professor and Schlaikjer Professor of Equine Infectious Disease at the Gluck Center, said: “Lyons was a legend, a giant in veterinary parasitology.”

“His list of contributions to veterinary science is remarkable and too long to summarize. People traveled from across the world to meet him and to learn from him. I feel very fortunate to have worked with him and learned from him.

“Never have I seen this much enthusiasm and passion for research, biology, parasites, horses and sea lions. He will forever serve as my role model,” Nielsen said.

“He will be sorely missed around the world, but we will continue the research program in his honor and spirit.”

Parasitology researchers Dr Martin Nielsen with Dr Gene Lyons.
Parasitology researchers Dr Martin Nielsen and Dr Gene Lyons.

The university awarded him the Thomas Poe Cooper Award in 1976 for his research on threadworm. He was inducted into the prestigious Equine Research Hall of Fame, housed at the Gluck Center, in 2014.

Dr Gene Lyons.
Dr Gene Lyons.

Established in 1990, the Equine Research Hall of Fame honors international scientific community members biennially who have made equine research a key part of their careers, recognizing their work, dedication and achievements in equine research.

At the time of his induction into the Equine Research Hall of Fame, Lyons credited those who worked in his laboratory for his success and said, “This is a great, and I personally feel, an undeserved honor for myself alone. It is unfortunate that the other team members, Sharon Tolliver and Sandra Collins, cannot be included as co-awardees.”

Lyons is survived by five brothers and their spouses, and many nieces and nephews.

A memorial reception is being held for Lyons on January 19, 2018, at UK’s Gluck Equine Research Center.

Reporting: Jenny Evans.

Dr Gene Lyons has died at the age of 86.
Dr Gene Lyons has died at the age of 86.

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