Vol 8. Issue 30 / October 13, 2008

In Memoriam:
Ernest Beutler (1928 — 2008)

Ernest Beutler, M.D., a pioneering scientist who chaired the Scripps Research Institute's Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine for three decades, died on Sunday, October 5, at the age of 80. Here, Scripps Research President Richard A. Lerner, M.D., shares some of his thoughts on this remarkable man.

It is with deep sadness that I share with you news of the passing of Ernest Beutler, M.D., my colleague and friend, who served The Scripps Research Institute for more than 30 years.

I know I speak on behalf of the trustees, the faculty, and all of us in the Scripps Research community in extending our most heart-felt sympathy to Bonnie, his wife of more than 57 years, to Bruce Beutler, his son and research collaborator at the institute, and to the others in the Beutler family.

Ernie's death at the age of 80 comes only weeks after he stepped down as chair of the Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine. He was very excited about continuing his research and maintaining his lab while unburdening himself of the chair's administrative duties. His passing is a great loss to science, to the institute, and to all who knew and worked with him over his long, brilliant career.

Ernie came to what was then the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in 1978 to chair his department, a role he performed brilliantly. A physician as well as a scientist, he was also head of the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Scripps Clinic for many years.

How can we adequately acknowledge his host of significant discoveries, including X-inactivation and the novel treatments for Gaucher's disease and several forms of leukemia, including hairy cell leukemia? How can we fully recognize his authorship of more than 800 scientific papers in all of the leading journals in his field, his numerous monographs and book chapters, and his editing of the widely used textbook Williams Hematology? When one of his sons, a software developer, was too busy to help update his father's electronic reference files, Ernie—already an accomplished programmer—did the job himself, inventing the first version of the program now known as Reference Manager.

Ernie always had a sparkle in his eye, the energy of a man half his age, and a bottomless treasury of new ideas. And he was not hesitant about speaking his mind on controversial subjects. His 2002 study of hemochromatosis caused a certain amount of skepticism because it was in sharp contrast to the conventional wisdom. Ernie simply returned to his laboratory and his team and worked harder. His view has now become generally accepted, with a profound effect on the perception of the value of screening the general population for this disease.

He led an exceptional life: birth in Berlin in 1928, escape from Germany in 1935, a youth spent in the American Midwest, schooling at the University of Chicago, service in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, establishment and chairmanship of the outstanding Department of Medicine at the City of Hope in Duarte, California, and then his extraordinary work here at the institute.

A member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at the institute, he was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, past president of both the American Society of Hematology and the Western Association of Physicians, recipient of the coveted Gairdner and the City of Medicine Awards, and a Doctor Philosophiae Honoris Causa, Tel Aviv University, to name only a few of his awards and honors.

Ernie was a truly extraordinary man who led an exceptional life, full of kindness, wisdom, strength, and knowledge. We should be most thankful that he crossed our path and stayed with us for so long.

Richard A. Lerner, M.D.
The Scripps Research Institute


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Ernest Beutler, M.D.