Lizzie J. Harrell, Ph.D., D(ABMM), FAAM

Lizzie J. Harrell, Ph.D., D(ABMM), FAAM
Clinical Microbiologist
Research Professor Emerita of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology






Lizzie Johnson Harrell, Ph.D., trailblazing clinical microbiologist, retired in November 2011 after 33 years at Duke University Medical Center.  She was Associate Director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory, and also Research Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, and Pathology.  When she joined the faculty in Microbiology (now MGM), she became the first full-time African American faculty member in any of the Basic Science departments at Duke.

Dr. Harrell, the oldest of 13 children, was born and reared in the coastal town of Shallotte, North Carolina.  She graduated from Union High School (Valedictorian) in 1961 and decided to pursue a career in science.  She notes that her decision to become a scientist was influenced by Russia’s launching of the world’s first satellite (Sputnik 1) in 1957.  The global community was shocked because everyone had expected the United States to be the first to launch a satellite into space.  Thus, students were encouraged to pursue science careers.  She earned her BS degree in Biology and Chemistry (Cum Laude) from North Carolina College at Durham (now North Carolina Central University [NCCU]) in 1965.  At NCCU, she was elected to membership in Alpha Kappa Mu National Scholastic Honor Society and Beta Kappa Chi National Scientific Honor Society, as well as Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.

Her first job was as a research technician for the DuPont Company in Newark, Delaware, where she conducted research on antiviral agents for influenza A virus.  She was one of the first African American college graduates to be hired at that laboratory.  After three years at DuPont, she returned to North Carolina and worked in the Pediatric Research Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) for a year.  Then she entered graduate school at UNC and earned her MS degree in Bacteriology and Immunology in 1971.  Her mentor was renowned Infectious Diseases physician, Dr. Janet J. Fischer, MD, who was interested in anaerobic infections.

Dr. Harrell’s master’s thesis, “Anaerobic Bacteria Isolated from Clinical Specimens,” became the guide for diagnosing anaerobic infections in the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at UNC.  After graduation, she was hired as a research assistant in the laboratory.  One of the drugs that she studied was Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Septra) which is now a commonly used antimicrobial for treating many types of bacterial infections, including urinary tract infections.  During Black Alumni Reunion weekend, in October 2011, Dr. Harrell was honored as one of the “Black Pioneers” who attended UNC between 1952 and 1972.

In 1972, she moved to Washington, DC where she helped to organize and supervise a new Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory at the Veterans Administration hospital.  She worked with Infectious Diseases physician/Pharmacist, Richard H. Parker, MD, RPH and helped to train residents from Georgetown and Howard Universities during their rotation at the VA hospital.  This position provided her the opportunity to develop her administrative and teaching skills, to do clinical trials on new antimicrobials, and to work with physicians who were treating infections in Vietnam War veterans.

In 1975, Dr. Harrell returned to North Carolina and enrolled in the doctoral program at North Carolina State University.  Her mentor was Dr. James B. Evans, Chair of the Microbiology Department.  She was able to use her laboratory skills, and knowledge of antibiotics and anaerobic microbiology to study “The Effects of Anaerobiosis on the Antimicrobial Susceptibility of Staphylococci.”  In 1978, she became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in Microbiology from NC State University.

In 1978, Dr. Harrell began her career in the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at Duke University Medical Center where she worked with Dr. Gale Hill (Anaerobe Lab.) and Dr. Dolph Klein (Director of Clinical Microbiology Lab.).  She excelled in the laboratory and advanced through the ranks to become Associate Director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory, and Section Head for Bacteriology, Mycobacteriology and Molecular Microbiology.


Clinical Microbiology Laboratory and Clinical Research

As a laboratory director, Dr. Harrell was widely known for her expertise in diagnostic microbiology and emerging antimicrobial resistance.  Her laboratory, which was open 24-7, was responsible for diagnosing infectious diseases (bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites) and performing susceptibility tests to determine optimal antimicrobial therapy.  Working closely with the other faculty members, and a staff of over 50 certified Medical Technologists, she played a pivotal role in patient care.  She also worked closely with Infectious Diseases physicians and Infection Control personnel to prevent the spread of infections among patients, staff and the public.  Additionally, she worked closely with the Antibiotic Subcommittee and Clinical Pharmacists to publish a yearly antibiogram report to facilitate the appropriate use of antimicrobials (Antimicrobial Stewardship).

When she started her career at Duke, infectious diseases such as HIV, Legionnaires’ disease, Helicobacter pylori, and Clostridium difficile were unheard of.  Additionally, molecular technology was not available in Clinical Microbiology.  Therefore, in 1993, recognizing the need for molecular methods in her laboratory, Dr. Harrell took a sabbatical with Infectious Diseases clinician/researcher, Kenneth H. Wilson, MD (Duke/Durham VA Hospital) to study molecular technology.  In 1994, she returned to Duke and started the Molecular Section of the Clinical Microbiology laboratory (with the help of L. Barth Reller, MD who was Laboratory Director).  She notes that she is very proud of this accomplishment because “the Molecular Section of the laboratory grew rapidly and now plays a pivotal role in patient care.”

Dr. Harrell’s clinical research interests include emerging antimicrobial resistance, anaerobic infections and the use of molecular methods to diagnose infectious diseases.  She studied the molecular epidemiology of emerging antimicrobial resistance, with special emphasis on methicillin-resistant staphylococci and vancomycin-resistant enterococci.  Through her work in the laboratory and her collaborative efforts, she has published over 40 articles in peer-reviewed journals.  She has done numerous seminars, research presentations and invited lectures at Duke, and other sites locally and nationally.


Teaching and Mentoring

As a first-generation college graduate, Dr. Harrell knows the importance of having good teachers and mentors.  She taught in the Medical School and coordinated the laboratory exercises for the first-year medical students.  She was known for her excellent teaching skills and her engaging laboratory rounds for the house staff.  Dr. Harrell was also noted for her mentoring of students at all levels, from elementary school through postgraduate school.  She always found time to listen and offer guidance to students as well as the technologists in her laboratory.  Additionally, she regularly served as a mentor for the annual Duke Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) for aspiring undergraduate students from around the United States, including underrepresented groups.  Dr. Harrell has helped to train many physicians and clinical laboratory scientists who are now serving in leadership positions, both nationally and internationally.


Committee Assignments and Professional Society Activities

Dr. Harrell served on many committees during her 33 years at Duke.  She served on the Antibiotic Subcommittee and the Infection Control Committee for over 20 years.  She also served on the Bioterrorism Planning Committee and the Dean’s Committee for Minority Affairs.  Nationally, she served on the Health Care Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Microbiology Medical Devices Advisory Committee at the Food and Drug Administration.  She has been a member of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) since 1973 where she served on numerous committees, and she chaired the on-line mentoring program for the Underrepresented Members Committee.  Dr. Harrell also served as a Colloquium member for the American Academy of Microbiology Program on Bioterrorism.  For many years, she served as an inspector for the College of American Pathologists, and she has also served as a journal reviewer and an NIH study section participant.


Honors and Awards

Dr. Harrell is one of the first African Americans to become board-certified as a Diplomate of the American Board of Medical Microbiology (DABMM) which qualifies her to direct hospital and public health laboratories.  She is also certified as a Specialist in Public Health and Medical Microbiology by the American Academy of Microbiology.  In 2000, she was elected to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology which recognizes excellence, leadership and scholarly achievement in Microbiology.  In 2016, she received the Legacy Award from the Auxiliary to the Durham Academy of Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy for her 40 plus years of work to end health disparities and inequities.  In 2018, the National Council of Negro Women honored her with the “Phenomenal Woman Excelling in Science for Humanity” award.  In March 2021, the American Society for Microbiology honored her for being a “Trailblazing African American Woman in Clinical Microbiology” (ASM News, March 1, 2021).



When Dr. Harrell retired in November 2011, after 33 years of dedicated service in Clinical Microbiology, the Duke University Board of Trustees granted her Emeritus status.  She is now Research Professor Emerita of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.

Although she has retired, Dr. Harrell continues to be active professionally with the American Society for Microbiology.  She is also active in the community where she holds membership in several service organizations, including the Auxiliary to the Durham Academy of Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy, and the Triangle Park Chapter of The Links, Inc.  Additionally, she is active in her church.  She has been married to her college sweetheart, Sampson E Harrell, MD, since 1966.  They have a son and daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren.  She enjoys traveling and attending sporting events with her husband, and spending time at the beach with her large family.



  1. Harrell LJ, Evans JB. Effect of anaerobiosis on antimicrobial susceptibility in staphylococci.  Antimicrob Agents Chemother  1977;11:1077‑1078.
  2. Evans JB, Harrell LJ. Agar shake technique for simultaneous determination of aerobic and anaerobic susceptibility to antibiotics.  Antimicrob Agents Chemother  1977;12:534‑536.
  3. Harrell LJ, Evans JB. Anaerobic resistance of clinical isolates of Staphylococcus aureus to aminoglycosides.  Antimicrob Agents Chemother  1978;14:927‑929.
  4. Harrell LJ, Schneider K. Microcomputers in microbiology:  A matter of special needs.  Med Lab Observ  1984;16:57‑63.
  5. Kolbeck JC, Padgett RA, Estevez EG, Harrell LJ. Bioluminescence screening for bacteriuria.  J Clin Microbiol 1985;21:527‑530.
  6. Clover D, Parks B, Harrell LJ. Laboratory Identification of Rhodococcus equi from a patient with AIDS.  Lab Med 1989;20:491-493.
  7. Kim JH, Cooper RA, Welty-Wolf KE, Harrell LJ, Zwadyk P, Klotman ME. Pseudomonas putrefaciens bacteremia.  Rev Inf Dis 1989;11:97-104.
  8. Harrell LJ, Cameron ML, O’Hara CM. Rahnella aquatilis: An unusual gram-negative rod isolated from the bronchial washing of an AIDS patient.  J Clin Microbiol 1989;27:1671-1672.
  9. Gottfried M, Washington K, Harrell LJ. Helicobacter pylori-like microorganisms and chronic active gastritis in ferrets.  Am J Gastroenterol 1990;85:813-818.
  10. Weinstein MP, Mirrett S, Wilson ML, Harrell LJ, Stratton CW, Reller LB. Controlled Evaluation of BACTEC Plus 26 and Roche Septi-Chek Aerobic Blood Culture Bottles.  J Clin Microbiol  1991;29:879‑882.
  11. Wilson JL, Harrell LJ, Mirrett S, Weinstein MP, Stratton CW, Reller LB. Controlled Comparison of BACTEC PLUS 27 and Roche Septi-Chek Anaerobic Blood Culture Bottles.  J Clin Microbiol 1992;30:63‑66.
  12. Sexton DJ, Harrell LJ, Thorpe JJ, Hunt DL, Reller LB. A case-control study of nosocomial ampicillin-resistant enterococcal infection and colonization at a university hospital.  Infect Ctrl Hosp Epid  1993;14(11):629-635.
  13. Hoban DJ, Jones RN, Harrell LJ, Knudson M, Sewell D. The North American component (the United States and Canada) of an international comparative MIC trial monitoring ofloxacin resistance.  Diagn Microbiol Infect Dis 1993;17:157-161.
  14. Harrell LJ, Mirrett S, Reller LB. Subcultures of BACTEC-positive but Gram or acridine orange stain-negative NR 6A and 7A blood culture bottles are unnecessary.  Diagn Microbiol Infect Dis  1994;20:121‑125.
  15. Harrell LJ, Andersen GL, Wilson KH. Genetic variability of Bacillus anthracis and related species.  J Clin Microbiol  1995;33:1847-1850.
  16. Mulhausen PL, Harrell LJ, Weinberger M, Kochersberger GG, Feussner JR. 1996.  Contrasting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus colonization in veterans affairs and community nursing homes.  Am J Med 1996;100(1):24-31.
  17. Snydman DR, McDermott L, Cuchural GJ, Jr, Hecht DW, Iannini PB, Harrell LJ, Jenkins SG, O’Keefe JP, Pierson CL, Rihs J, Yu V, Finegold SM, Gorbach SL. Analysis of trends in antimicrobial resistance for clinical isolates of Bacteroides species from 1990-1994.  Clin Infect Dis  1996;23(Suppl I):S54-S65.
  18. Procop GW, Harrell LJ, Washington MK, Owen CH, Pappas TN. Pericolic abscess due to Streptococcus pyogenes: report of a case that clinically mimicked acute cholecystitis.  Clin Infect Dis  1996;23:182-183.
  19. Zaidi AKM, Harrell LJ, Rost JR, Reller LB. Assessment of similarity among coagulase-negative staphylococci from sequential blood cultures of neonates and children by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis.  J Infect Dis  1996;174:1010-1014.
  20. Anonymous. United States geographic bacteria susceptibility patterns: 1995 ASCP susceptibility testing group.  Am J Clin Path  1996;106:275-281.
  21. Lyon GM, Alspaugh JA, Meredith FT, Harrell LJ, Tapson V., Davis RD, Kanj SS. Mycoplasma hominis pneumonia complicating bilateral lung transplantation. Chest 1997;112:428-432.
  22. Bayer AS, Cheng D, Yeaman MR, Corey GR, McClelland RS, Harrell LJ, Fowler VG, Jr. In vitro resistance to thrombin-induced platelet microbicidal protein among clinical bacteremic isolates of Staphylococcus aureus correlates with an endovascular infectious source.  Antimicrob Agents Chemother 1998;42:3169‑3172.
  23. Fuller RE, Harrell LJ, Meredith FT, Sexton DJ, Colvin LG. Vancomycin-resistant enterococci: risk related to the use of intravenous vancomycin in a university hospital. [Letter] Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol  1998;19:821-823.
  24. Fowler VG, Sanders LL, Kong LK, McClelland RS, Gottlieb GS, Li J, Ryan R, Sexton DJ, Roussakis G, Harrell LJ, Corey GR. Infective endocarditis due to Staphylococcus aureus: 59 prospectively identified cases with follow-up.  Clin Infect Dis 1999;28:106-114.
  25. Fowler VG, Kong LK, Corey GR, Gottlieb GS, McClelland RS, Sexton DJ, Gesty-Palmer D, Harrell LJ. Recurrent Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia: Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis findings in 29 patients.  J Infect Dis 1999;179:1157-1161.         
  26. Snydman DR, Jacobus NV, McDermott LA, Supran S, Cuchural GJ, Jr, Finegold S, Harrell L, Hecht DW, Iannini P, Jenkins S., Pierson C, Rihs J, Gorbach SL. Multicenter study of in vitro susceptibility of the Bacteroides fragilis group, 1995 to 1996, with comparison of resistance trends from 1990 to 1996.  Antimicrob Agents Chemother 1999;43:2417-2422.
  27. 1997 ASCP Susceptibility Testing Group. United States geographic bacteria susceptibility patterns.  Diagn Microbiol Infect Dis  1999;35:143-151.
  28. Nguyen MH, Yu VL, Morris AJ, McDermott L, Wagener MW, Harrell LJ, Snydman DR. Antimicrobial resistance and clinical outcome for Bacteroides bacteremia: Results from a multicenter, prospective observational trial.  Clin Infect Dis  2000;30:870-6.
  29. Snydman DR, Jacobus NV, McDermott LA, Ruthazer R, Goldstein E, Finegold S, Harrell L, Hecht DW, Jenkins S, Pierson C, Venezia R, Rihs J, Gorbach SL. In vitro activities of newer quinolones against Bacteroides group organisms.  Antimicrob Agents Chemother  2002;46:3276-9.
  30. Murdoch DR, Mirrett S, Harrell LJ, Monahan JS, Reller LB. Sequential emergence of antibiotic resistance in enterococcal bloodstream isolates over 25 years.  Antimicrob Agents Chemother 2002;46:3676-8.
  31. Snydman DR, Jacobus NV, McDermott LA, Ruthazer R, Goldstein EJC, Finegold SM, Harrell LJ, Hecht DW, Jenkins SG, Pierson C, Venezia R, Rihs J, Gorbach SL. National survey on the susceptibility of Bacteroides fragilis group: Report and analysis of trends for 1997-2000.  Clin Infect Dis 2002:35 (Suppl 1):S126-34.
  32. Golan Y, McDermott LA, Jacobus NV, Goldstein EJ, Finegold S, Harrell LJ, Hecht DW, Jenkins SG, Pierson C, Venezia R, Rihs J, Iannini P, Gorbach SL, Snydman DR. Emergence of fluoroquinolone resistance among Bacteroides species.  J Antimicrob Chemother  2003;52:208-13.
  33. Murdoch DR, Mirrett S, Harrell LJ, Donabedian SM, Zervos MJ, Reller LB. Comparison of MicroScan broth microdilution, synergy quad plate agar dilution, and disk diffusion screening methods for detection of high-level aminoglycoside resistance in Enterococcus species. J Clin Microbiol  2003;41:2703-5.
  34. Weinstein MP, Mirrett S, Kannangara S, Monahan J, Harrell LJ, Wilson A, Reller LB. Multicenter evaluation of the use of penicillin and ampicillin as surrogates for in vitro susceptibility testing of imipenem versus enterococci.  J Clin Microbiol  2004:42:3747-51.
  35. Cheng AC, Murdoch DR, Harrell LJ, Reller LB. Clinical profile and strain relatedness of recurrent enterococcal bacteraemia.  Scand J Infect Dis  2005;37:642-6.
  36. Anderson DJ, Engemann JJ, Harrell LJ, Carmeli Y, Reller LB, Kaye KS. Predictors of mortality in patients with bloodstream infection due to ceftazidime-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniaeAntimicrob Agents Chemother  2006;50:1715-20.
  37. Scanga L, Chaing S, Powell C, Aylsworth AS, Harrell LJ, Henshaw NG, Civalier CJ, Thorne LB, Weck K, Booker J, Gulley ML. Diagnosis of human congenital cytomegalovirus infection by amplification of viral DNA from dried blood spots on perinatal cards.  J Mol Diagn  2006;8:240-5.
  38. McDonald JR, Carriker CM, Pien BC, Trinh JV, Engemann JJ, Harrell LJ, Oden MA, Tanaka DT, Goldberg RN, Sexton DJ, Kaye KS. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) outbreak in an intensive care nursery (ICN): potential for multi-institutional spread.  Pediatr Infect Dis J 2007;26:678-83.
  39. Snydman, DR, Jacobus NV, McDermott LA, Ruthazer R, Golan Y, Goldstein EJC, Finegold SM, Harrell LJ, Hecht DW, Jenkins SG, Pierson C, Venezia R, Yu V, Rihs J, Gorbach SL. National survey on the susceptibility of Bacteroides fragilis Group: Report and analysis of trends in the United States from 1997 to 2004.  Antimicrob Agents Chemother  2007;51:1649-55.
  40. Harrell LJ, Sharps SK, Bean RA, Reller LB. Genetic relatedness of Streptococcus pneumoniae isolates obtained from paired blood and respiratory specimens.  J Clin Microbiol 2007;45:2017-9.
  41. Lalani T, Varkey JB, Drew R, Harrell L, McGarry S, Engemann JG, Johnson MD, Kaye KS. Analysis of two- and three-year trends in antimicrobial resistance in intensive care units using unit-specific antibiograms.  Scand J Infect Dis  2008;40:672-4.
  42. Olson RP, Harrell LJ, Kaye KS. Antibiotic resistance in urinary isolates of Escherichia coli from college women with urinary tract infections.  Antimicrob Agents Chemother 2009;53:1285-6.