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Dr. Larry T. Mimms Receives Honorary Doctor of Science for HIV Virus Work

by Bill Giduz

This honarary degree citation was read during Davidson College's 177th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 18, 2014.

Ever since its first days, more than 175 years ago, Davidson College has assisted students in developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service. Today, we honor an alumnus who exemplifies leadership in his field... service to humanity... and an unwavering passion for improving the lives of others around the world.

In 1976, Larry Mimms graduated Davidson with a degree in Chemistry, going on to Duke University to earn his Ph.D. degree. He served as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University before working, in positions of greater and greater responsibility, at the pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories.

As do many of our graduates, Larry demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit that made him confident that he could do more. He left the relative job security of Abbott Labs - a  multinational giant - to lead a much smaller company called Gen-Probe. He was excited about the opportunity to create real change in the world, and he embarked on inventing a more effective method to detect the life-threatening HIV virus, which causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.

Before Larry's new method, HIV tests depended upon detecting the presence of antibodies, which can take six months or longer to materialize in blood. Larry had a revolutionary idea for a process that would cut the time of detection down to under a week after exposure to the virus.

It is no exaggeration to say that Larry's idea and his work - drastically reducing the time between infection and treatment - has saved millions of lives around the world, including patients who received blood transfusions during surgery.

Rarely can one individual be pinpointed as the critical player in a life-saving technology, but this is truly the case with Dr. Larry Mimms. 

In 2004, Larry's process was awarded the highest U.S. honor for technological innovation:  the National Medal of Technology.  In recognition of his pioneering work, the American Red Cross asked him to serve on a Blue Ribbon Panel from 2006-2007.

He eventually retired from Gen-Probe but, rather than slowing down, he started a new biotech company with Larry as the only employee. His company and his newest idea were purchased by Quidel Corporation, where he now serves as Vice President for Research and Development. In his capacity there, he has developed new technologies to detect pathogens using supplies that can be stored easily and inexpensively.

Larry exhibits a rare combination of excellence in both science and business, has enhanced the human condition by protecting our blood supplies, and has slowed the spread of one of the world's most devastating killers - the HIV virus.

  • BECAUSE you are a global leader in the research and development of medical diagnostics;
  • BECAUSE you have helped shed the stigma of HIV infection;
  • BECAUSE you applied what you learned at Davidson to address an international health crisis; and
  • BECAUSE you have given back to Davidson for many years by supporting our student/faculty research teams;

NOW THEREFORE, on the 18th day of May in the year 2014, Davidson College honors you, Larry T. Mimms, and names you Doctor of Science, honoris causa