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Deborah Doniach

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 05 February 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:351

An immunologist who initiated our understanding of autoimmune diseases

Deborah Doniach was part of a ground-breaking team that showed that Hashimoto's disease of the thyroid was caused by autoimmunity. Hitherto it was thought that antibodies in blood were specifically targeted against external agents, mainly bacteria and viruses.

The discovery led to the wider concept of organ-specific autoimmunity, later found to be a major causal factor in other endocrine disorders. Doniach postulated that Addison's disease, thyrotoxicosis, myxoedema, pernicious anaemia, and hypoparathyroidism might have the same aetiology, as diabetes mellitus was common in all of them.

The eldest of three daughters of a Ukrainian concert pianist and a bohemian Norwegian teacher of therapeutic dance, Doniach was charming and cultivated, and a talented musician. Her father, a passionate Zionist who had changed his name from Joseph Niswitzki to Arieh Abileah, eventually became professor of …

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