Baruj Benacerraf

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 17 August 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5298
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. ns{at}

Showed that immune response has a genetic basis

The immunologist Baruj Benacerraf, who explained why some people are better at fighting infections and tumours, has died aged 90. Every day at about 10 am in the early 1960s in the laboratory of Benacerraf at New York University School of Medicine, his wife, Annette, would stop by with the day’s mail, usually a stack of letters posted from around the world.

Already a successful medical researcher, Benacerraf also oversaw his late father’s financial interests, including a global textile business. Fred Kantor, on fellowship in Benacerraf’s laboratory at the time and now professor of immunology at Yale University, remembers Benacerraf sitting at his desk with his wife opening the letters, some pertaining to family business, some from colleagues and friends. “He would dispense with the letters in a short and efficient manner then turn his attention back to the lab,” Professor Kantor said. “His passion was the lab. He loved science.”

Groundbreaking studies

About this time, as Benacerraf was beginning his groundbreaking studies in immunogenetics, he made a key decision. “The success of my laboratory made me realise that I had to choose between a scientific career …

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