Bernard M. Babior, 1935-2004
Bernard M. Babior, a distinguished medical scientist,
died in San Diego, California on June 29, 2004, after a long
battle with prostate cancer. For the past 18 years, he was
a professor and head of the Division of Biochemistry at The
Scripps Research Institute and a staff physician at the Scripps
Clinic, both in La Jolla.
Babior was noted for his groundbreaking insights into human
biochemistry, particularly as they pertained to the body's
defenses against infection. He was one of those rare individuals
who was highly respected and considered as "one of our own"
both by members of the medical profession and professional
Bernard Babior was born in Los Angeles on November 10, 1935.
He received his M.D. degree at the University of California
at San Francisco in 1959. After interning at Peter Bent Brigham
Hospital in Boston, he joined the laboratory of Nobel laureate-to-be
Konrad Bloch at Harvard University and was awarded a Ph.D.
degree in 1965. He received further training at The National
Institutes of Health, then served on the faculty of Harvard
University and at Tufts University before moving to Scripps
Early in his career, while studying a vitamin B12-dependent
enzyme, he recognized that free radicals, very unstable and
difficult-to-measure molecules, might play an important role
in biologic processes. He showed that highly reactive oxygen
derivatives were weapons that white cells use to kill invading
bacteria. This revolutionary concept, initially slow to be
adopted, is now recognized as one of the important mechanisms
that enable humans and lower life forms to exist without being
destroyed by invading microbes. One of the proofs that Babior
marshaled in favor of this new concept came from an "experiment
of nature," chronic granulomatous disease, in which the mechanism
by which these oxygen derivatives are formed is defective.
Serious and often fatal infections plague the unfortunate
victim. But recognition of the role of oxygen free radicals
in human health has extended far beyond this rare disease.
Babior and others showed that the very weapons that the body
makes to protect itself against microbial invasion can also
play an important role in a variety of common diseases, including
arthritis, arteriosclerosis, and Alzheimer's disease. Treatments
that are now being devised for these disorders are based on
Babior's insights concerning basic biochemical mechanisms.
On learning of Babior's death, Harvard Professor C. Franklin
Bunn, a longtime associate, said: "Bernard Babior greatly
advanced our understanding of how white blood cells protect
us from bacterial infection. He showed that when a white cell
engulfs a bacterium it turns on a signaling cascade that converts
oxygen into a potent oxidant that is needed to kill the microorganism.
This work opened up a new and important chapter in cell biology
and provided insights into the pathogenesis of a number of
infectious diseases as well as hematologic and immune disorders."
Ernest Beutler, professor and chair of the Department of
Molecular and Experimental Medicine at Scripps Research expressed
his condolences to the family and stated: "With Bernie Babior's
passing the world has lost not only a great scientist but
also a wonderful human being. He loved science, and made seminal
contributions to our understanding of how white blood cells
work. He was also a caring physician, a generous colleague,
a gifted teacher, and a warm friend. He touched the lives
of many, and they were all the richer for having known him."
Scripps Research Institute President Richard A. Lerner expressed
his sorrow: "Bernie contributed so much during his long tenure
at the institute, not only by the invaluable research that
has enriched science worldwide, but also through his humanity,
his sense of serving those with whom he came in contact. The
Scripps community will miss him dearly."
Martha Liggett, executive director of the American Society
of Hematology (ASH) lauded Babior: "In addition to his many
scientific contributions to hematology, Bernie found time
to serve ASH as a member of its Advisory Board, the Finance
Task Force and as chair of the Financial Affairs Committee.
The ASH Executive Committee awarded Bernie the Exemplary Service
Award to recognize these significant efforts. Bernie was one
of only six individuals to ever receive this award from ASH."
Irwin Fridovich, emeritus professor of biochemistry at Duke
University, a member of the National Academy of Sciences,
and a longtime colleague said: "I have been both pleased and
proud to count Bernie Babior among my friends... he made many
important discoveries and was always true to the scientific
Sandor Shapiro, professor of biochemistry and molecular
pharmacology, Jefferson Medical College and Cardeza Foundation,
said: "He was a marvelous, open, friendly human being, and
his passing has created an irreparable lacuna in my life as
well as in that of my wife, Susan."
John T. Curnutte, president and CEO, DNAX Research, Inc.,
was Babior's student at Harvard in the early 1970s. He said:
"His striking hypothesisthat white cells might form
oxygen radicals such as superoxide in response to threatening
microbeswas borne out by experiments I conducted under
his careful guidance and confirmed by innumerable investigators
around the world. It opened a whole new era of research in
host defense and inflammationand became the scientific
bond that joined the two us for the next 32 years." Babior
has received numerous honors recognizing his groundbreaking
discoveries in biochemistry and medicine. He was elected to
membership of the American Society for Clinical Investigation,
Association of American Physicians, and the American Academy
of Arts and Sciences. In 1999, he was elected to membership
in the National Academy of Sciences, one of the very few physicians
practicing medicine to achieve this honor. He was awarded
many grants by the National Institutes of Health, and served
on various peer review groups for that body. He served on
the editorial boards of leading professional journals, including
the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Blood, Journal of
Biological Chemistry, and the American Journal of Hematology.
He published more than 250 scientific papers and wrote or
edited four books.
He is survived by his wife Shirley of San Diego and their
two children, Jill and Gregory. Services are scheduled for
2 PM, Sunday, July 18, at El Camino Memorial Park, 5600 Carroll
Canyon Road, San Diego, California.
Renowned physician and biochemist Bernard
Babior died this week at the age of 69.