Saturday 20 August 2011
Baruj Benacerraf, who died on 9 August aged 90, was a Venezuelan immunologist who shared the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Benacerraf gained attention after he discovered that genetic factors played a central role in the function of the immune system. That finding led to the 1980 Nobel Prize for him and his colleagues Jean Dausset and George Snel.
As president of the Boston-based Dana-Farber Cancer institute, Benacerraf oversaw its expansion and recruited leading researchers who could also serve as teaching professors at nearby Harvard Medical School. He stepped down as president in 1992 but continued working in his own lab at Dana-Farber into his 80s.
"Dr Benacerraf's seminal discoveries about genetic control of the immune system made possible much of what we now know about basic disease processes such as infection, autoimmune disorders and cancer," the current Dana-Farber President Edward J Benz Jr said. "His work has shaped everything from organ transplantation to Aids treatment to, most recently, the development of therapeutic cancer vaccines."
Born in Caracas of Spanish-Jewish ancestry, he was raised in Paris. He went to the US in 1939 to Columbia University and the Medical College of Virginia. In his 1998 autobiography From Caracas to Stockholm: A Life In Medical Science he discussed the anti-Semitic quota systems and anti-foreigner bias, being rejected by 25 medical schools, including Harvard.
In 1956, he went to New York University School of Medicine to work in cellular immunology, where his students included his future Dana-Farber colleague Stuart Schlossman, who said: "He created an environment where everybody could prosper, and young people could develop wonderful careers of their own."
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