As early as 1894, when this University was known as the Syrian Protestant College, a practical course of bacteriology was given to fourth year medical students for 2 hours a week during the second term. The course was taught by Dr. H. Graham, and was “designed to be an aid in making correct and scientific diagnoses”. The available facilities for teaching bacteriology during this period were described as follows: “The laboratory occupies a fire-proof incubating house and one wing of Medical Hall. It is furnished with steam and dry sterilizers, incubators, apparatus for the examination and cultivation of germs found in air, earth and water, and all the necessary instruments for bacteriological investigation. In addition to a number of microscopes for the use of students, there is a Carl-Zeiss microscope with a complete system of apochromatic lenses and compensating eye-pieces, and the necessary apparatus for micro-photography and projection by the same maker. The cabinet contains a collection of slides of morbid tissue”.
In 1907, the number of hours allotted for teaching of the course was raised to “10 hours a week, for part of the second term”. The course was given to the third year medical students. In 1911, Dr. N. Ardati took charge of teaching bacteriology in the Medical School curriculum.
In 1919, the teaching of bacteriology was shifted from third year to second year medicine. The course included 32 lectures and 64 laboratory hours, and was described as follows: “The principles of bacteriology are presented and a systematic study is made of the character of the more common bacteria. The students are taught to detect and differentiate the various micro-organisms, to grow and isolate bacteria, to prepare culture media and to use the different apparatus of the bacteriological laboratory. The course also includes serum-diagnose and water analysis”. This is the first description of the course where growth and isolation of micro-organisms are mentioned.
Dr. Ardati continued teaching bacteriology until 1924, when Drs. L. W. Parr and R. Bellama took over. The department was known then as Department of Bacteriology, Pathology, Hygiene and Parasitology. In 1925, the Department was transferred to the recently constructed Pathology Building on the Hospital grounds. Of note, Dr. P. Lepine who later became head of virus section at Pasteur Institute in Paris, was an adjunct professor of pathology and morbid anatomy during 1925-26.
In 1926, the number of hours for teaching bacteriology was raised from 32 lectures to 48 lectures, keeping the laboratory hours the same. In the mid-twenties, the name of the Department was changed into Department of Bacteriology, Hygiene and Parasitology and the Department of Pathology became an independent academic unit. Dr. Parr continued to be the head of the Department until 1931.
In 1930, Dr. D. Berberian joined the staff and a year later Dr. E. W. Dennis arrived from the U.S. as a head of this Department. Under the leadership of these two the Department made considerable progress along the line of teaching as well as in research. In 1935, the name of the Department was again changed, this time into Department of Bacteriology and Parasitology. The number of lectures in bacteriology was raised to 80 and laboratory hours to 112.
During the World War II period, both the quality of teaching and of research suffered because of the amount of time spent for the production of biological products. Vaccine production continued after the end of the war.
Drs. Dennis and Berberian departed after the war and the Department of Bacteriology and Parasitology had several heads, including Drs. A. Pipkin, E. Rixk, J. Watson, R. Dowdeswell. Likewise, during the same period the Department of Clinical Pathology, which was formerly incorporated with the Department of Bacteriology and Parasitology, was founded under a new director. Finally, in 1952, the Department of Bacteriology and Parasitology was split into separate divisions under their respective names.
In 1953, a division for virus studies was established thus representing a historic landmark to the Department. Concomitant with the introduction of this new branch, the teaching of bacteriology to medical students was considerably modified to include lectures and laboratory hours on viruses and rickettsiae. Since 1953, the number of hours allotted for teaching of viruses had increased considerably and this relatively new branch of science had attained more importance in the teaching of microbiology to medical students. Likewise, research along this line had gained more importance, and had been particularly intensified during the past few years. In 1954, the name of the Department was changed into the Department of Bacteriology and Virology under the chairmanship of Dr. Garabed Garabedian.
The period between 1954 to 1975 was initiated by a combination of circumstances which, when combined, brought about a new impetus through research, graduate education, surveillance of endemic diseases and increase in faculty participation. Thus, opportunity was made available for overseas specialty training. For a period of time, the Department offered Microbiology Courses for students in Agriculture, Nutrition, Public Health and Nursing in addition to Medical Undergraduate and Graduate courses. Grants were obtained to establish laboratory procedures for the diagnosis of epidemic and endemic viral, rickettsial and parasitic diseases. Activation of a graduate program encouraged the participation of students in advanced basic education and specialty training. During this period the faculty included Dr. Garabed Garabedian, Dr. Robert Matossian, Dr. Joseph Hatem (served for 3 years), Dr. Adnan Dajani (served for 3 years), Dr. Artin Malakian (served for 6 years), Dr. Nassim Nabbut and Dr. Marwan Uwaydah. This phase reached its peak in the early seventies when the Department was endowed with fresh equipment and greater space, in the newly constructed Medical Center. The Lebanese Civil War of the mid-seventies had a major impact on the department’s academic activities but the faculty members carried on with their teaching responsibilities under these difficult and strenuous conditions.
The Department’s teaching activities were mainly bacteriology, virology and to a certain extent immunology. When the Department of Tropical Heath at the School of Public Health at AUB was phased out at the beginning of the war Dr. George Frayha, Mr. Mtanious Koussa and Mr. Salim Lutfallah (Parasitologists) of the Department of Tropical Health were transferred to the Department of Bacteriology and Virology and were given the responsibility to teach Parasitology and Mycology. As a result,the name of the Department was changed to the Department of Microbiology in 1977. In the same year, Dr. Alexander Abdelnoor (Immunologist and Microbiologist) joined the Department. Soon after, Dr. Garabed Garabedian (Chairman) passed away and Dr. Robert Matossian replaced him, first as Acting Chairman and then as Chairman. The persistence of war led to drainage of faculty and the department was left with Drs R. Matossian, Alexander Abdelnoor and Marwan Uwaydah (part time). Teaching and research activities and the M.S. graduate program were maintained to the extent possible. In addition, an extension of the M.S. graduate program was established at Off Campus Program (OCP). The laboratory facilities at Hospital Notre Dame de Secours (HNDS) were utilized. Dr. Alex Abdelnoor served as coordinator of this activity as well as coordinator of the affiliation agreement between AUBMC and HNDS. These activities were discontinued when OCP was phased out.
Dr. Matossian retired in 1992 and Dr. Abdelnoor replaced him as a Chairman of the Department. With the strengthening of teaching and research in Immunology, the name of the Department was changed to the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Dr. Ghassan Matar, Dr. Elias Rahal, Dr. Samia Khoury and Dr. Mohammad Sayegh joined the Department and Drs. Ghassan Al-Awar and Nabil Nassar from the Division of Infectious Diseases became Associates. Dr. Marwan Uwaydah suddenly passed away in 2008 and Dr. Nabil Nassar retired in 2011. In 2010 and with restructuring of the basic science departments at the Faculty of Medicine, the name of the Department was changed to the Department of Experimental Pathology, Immunology and Microbiology.
Over the past few years, the Department has witnessed further growth in its faculty and programs with the recruitment of faculty members. Dr. Hassan Zaraket, Dr. Margret Shirinian, Dr. Antoine Abou Fayad and Dr. Michel Massaad joined the Department in addition to Dr. Hiba El-Hajj who joined as an associate. In 2016, Dr. Ghazi Zaatari was appointed as Interim Chairperson and Dr. Ghassan Matar was named as Chairperson of the Department in 2018.
A recent historic landmark for the Department is its relocation to its new home on the second floor of the Diana Sabbagh Building on campus, thus joining other basic science departments in the same building. The Department now has new research space facilities, teaching labs for medical and graduate students, and state of the art lecture halls.