BYRON H. WAKSMAN M.D.
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WAKSMAN, Byron H., M.D. A distinguished immunologist who pioneered the field of neuro-immunology, died on Sunday, June 17 in Lexington, Massachusetts. He was 92. Waksman graduated from Swarthmore College in 1940 and from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1943. He went on to an academic career at both Harvard/ Mass General Hospital and at Yale School of Medicine. He began his research career investigating experimental allergic encephalomyelitis, an artificially induced condition resembling multiple sclerosis, and similar inflammatory diseases of the nervous system, which he termed "auto-immune" diseases. Waksman and his students demonstrated the role of the thymus in both immune responses and tissue-specific tolerance. They are also credited with discovering several of the first and most important cytokines and circulating lymphocytes known as T-cells. After retiring from academia, Waksman became vice president for research and medicine at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, where he streamlined the granting process and improved communication between the board, patients and their families, and the media. One of his greatest achievements was to create a series of yearly workshops that brought together physicians and scientists involved with MS, from basic research to clinical treatments. These workshops and their published summaries successfully promoted cooperative work and moved the field of MS research and treatment forward substantially. Following his "second retirement," Waksman taught middle school students at the Salk School of Science in New York, an experience that convinced him of the urgent need to improve science education at the pre-college level. For more than 30 years, Waksman directed the Foundation for Microbiology, established in 1951 by his father, Nobel Laureate Selman Waksman, using patent royalties from the production of streptomycin, the first antibiotic for the treatment of tuberculosis. During his tenure, Waksman focused on improving science communication of every kind. In 1985 he initiated the Science Journalism Program at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, and later created a similar international journalism program (EICOS) at the Max Plank Institute in Munich. He also launched a decade-long K-12 science education initiative training classroom teachers to use hands-on microbiology exercises. Waksman traveled widely both professionally and for pleasure, and he spoke many foreign languages fluently. He was a visiting investigator and/or teacher in France, Britain, Germany, Brazil, Venezuela, and Senegal. From 1961 onward, he served almost continuously on advisory panels of various government agencies, the World Health Organization, and the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as on the editorial boards of scientific journals of immunology. Waksman published more than 350 papers and articles. Waksman's many colleagues, former students, and friends around the world cite his superlative teaching and the open, cooperative, and international atmosphere in his labs as his greatest legacy. Waksman is survived by his wife, Joyce; daughter, Nan Schanbacher; son, Peter; and five grandchildren. Memorial services will take place next summer in Woods Hole.


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Published in Boston Globe from Jul. 7 to Jul. 8, 2012.
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7 entries
March 27, 2013
Byron was a good friend and mentor. His knowledge of many things and languages was legion. It was an honor and privilege to know him.
Bob Cone
October 15, 2012
I knew Byron as a colleague, trusted adviser, musical comrade---he played the viola and I played the piano in a continuing trio/quartet in the 1970s---and most importantly, as a friend. His encyclopedic knowledge of immunology was unmatched, and I, like many others, truly believe that his seminal contributions to autoimmune disease have never been given sufficient acclaim. He had a profound influence on a host of my contemporaries, and on my own career as a medical immunologist, for which I remain grateful. I wish Joyce and her children the best and with them will always remember Byron with great fondness and affection.
Malcolm Mitchell
October 12, 2012
10/12/12 I just learned of Byron's passing. He was a good friend and mentor in the early days of my career. It was an honor to know him and call him a friend.
Robert Cone
July 21, 2012
Dear Nan, Joyce and family,

Emily and I are incredibly saddened by the news. I called on the day and spoke with Joyce because he was sleeping. Byron was an extraordinary man in every possible way and I am truly honored and humbled to have had the privilege of spending time with him at Harvard and Woods Hole. He taught me the joys of science but the most beneficial lessons he gave me were his experiences in life. He showed me the qualities of a great man, and I will always treasure those memories. Rest in peace Byron. We love you dearly. Henry and Emily
Henry Y. Wu
July 9, 2012
Nan and Family,
A special place in your heart he will live forever...It's the day to day that is so lonely...Love you...Linda and aunt Bert.
July 9, 2012
Dear Nan and Peter and Joyce.
I was so sad to read of Byron's death. I have fond and vivid memories of him taking us, the neighborhood kids, on nature walks on Sunday mornings. He had a larger than life personality and I feel lucky to have known him. Love, Vivian
July 9, 2012
Ironically, Byron H. Waksman died on Fathers Day 2012. He was truly a father to me and to his many students. He provided scientific and personal guidance even during his final months of life. Along with Edmond Yunis and J.F.Miller, Byron likely would have been awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize for the discovery of the role of the thymus gland in health and disease. It is now too late for his Nobel Prize but his contributions to science will live on through his countless students and colleagues. We will all profoundly miss his warm smile and unselfish caring ways. Byron Waksman truly led a Wonderful Life. He was the George Bailey of Immunology.


R. Michael Williams MD PhD
Director, Northern California Cancer Center
Mike Williams
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