Georgia Tomaras, Kevin Saunders Receive 2024 Distinguished Professorships

The Department of Surgery is pleased to announce that Georgia Tomaras, PhD, Chief of the Division of Surgical Sciences, and Kevin Saunders, PhD, Professor in Surgery, have been awarded distinguished professorships in the Duke School of Medicine.

Distinguished professorships are awarded to faculty who have demonstrated extraordinary scholarship in advancing science and improving human health. 

A. Geller Distinguished Professor for Research in Immunology

Dr. Georgia Tomaras

Georgia Tomaras, PhD, is a professor in surgery, chief of the Division of Surgical Sciences in the Department of Surgery, director of the Duke Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), and co-director of the Duke Center for Human Systems Immunology.

Her primary research focus is deciphering mechanisms of protective human immunity and identification of immune correlates of protection to further development of effective vaccines against infectious diseases. Her laboratory’s goals are to reveal the specificities and functions of protective immune responses that lead to prevention or resolution of disease, including findings that directly contribute to the design and implementation of clinical trials. 

Dr. Tomaras received her PhD from State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Duke CFAR and the Department of Surgery. She joined the Duke Surgery faculty as an Assistant Research Professor in Surgery in 2001, and was appointed Chief of the Division of Surgical Sciences in 2022. Dr. Tomaras also holds joint appointments in the Duke Departments of Integrative Immunobiology and Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, and is a member of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute as well as an affiliate of the Duke Global Health Institute.

About the A. Geller Distinguished Professor for Research Immunology


George Barth Geller, MD, was a general surgeon who practiced in New York and Florida. He had  no connection to Duke University and never visited Durham. He was introduced to Duke by Fenner Douglass, a Duke professor of music and university organist, and his brother, John Douglass, an attorney. This endowment, named for his father, is one of a series that Geller established in the late 1980s. When he died in 1992, another bequest helped to establish several additional endowments.

Norman L. Letvin M. D. Distinguished Professor in Surgery and the Duke Human Vaccine Institute

Dr. Kevin Saunders

Kevin Saunders, PhD, Professor in Surgery in the Division of Surgical Sciences, also has appointments in integrative immunobiology and molecular genetics and microbiology. His research focuses on vaccine and antibody development to combat HIV-1 infection and coronavirus infections.

As the director of research for the Duke Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI) and director of the DHVI Laboratory of Protein Expression, he focuses on two main areas of research: vaccine design and antibody isolation and engineering. Together, his research program is an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the molecular biology underlying antibody recognition of glycoproteins in order to produce protective vaccines. 

Dr. Saunders completed his doctoral research on CD8+ T cell immunity against HIV-1 infection with Dr. Georgia Tomaras at Duke in 2010. He subsequently trained as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratories of Drs. Gary Nabel and John Mascola at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Vaccine Research Center.

Dr. Saunders joined the faculty at Duke as a medical instructor in the Department of Medicine and a member of the DHVI in 2014, and was appointed Assistant Professor in Surgery in 2015. He was promoted to Associate Professor in Surgery in 2022, and Professor in Surgery in 2024.

About the Norman L. Letvin M. D. Distinguished Professorship


This professorship was established in memory of Norman L. Letvin, MD, and in honor of Barton F. Haynes, MD. Dr. Letvin devoted his life to the study of the immune system and its relationship to the cause and prevention of disease. One of the most internationally influential leaders in the field of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) research, he was a major contributor in the quest to make a vaccine against the disease. Dr. Letvin was a consummate collaborator, who fostered the development of large research teams that made remarkable progress in AIDS research, and a wise, honest, and caring mentor to both trainees and collaborators. Dr. Haynes, an associate of Dr. Letvin, is globally recognized for his work in T-cell immunology, retrovirology and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) vaccine development. An indefatigable researcher and educator, he founded the Duke Human Vaccine Institute to support the development of vaccines and therapeutics for HIV and other emerging infections. He is the institute’s director and the Frederic M. Hanes Professor of Medicine and Immunology at Duke University.

Graphic illustration recognizing the 2024 Duke School of Medicine Distinguished Professorships

In total, 32 new distinguished professors across Duke University were approved by the Board of Trustees in February. 

Drs. Tomaras and Saunders, along with the additional 16 newly awarded distinguished professors from the School of Medicine, will be honored at the annual distinguished professorship event on May 23, 2024.

Learn more about all 18 of the newest School of Medicine distinguished professorships.