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Immunology. Jun 2004; 112(2): 339–340.
PMCID: PMC1782490

Professor J. Wayne Streilein, 1935–2004

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J. Wayne Streilein, MD, who has died aged 68, was among the world's leading authorities on immune responses in the eye. His research on immune privilege revealed various mechanisms via which the eye (and other organs and tissues) is protected from potentially damaging effects of inflammatory responses. Other research carried out in his laboratory is likely to have a continuing impact on our understanding of, and approaches toward the treatment of blinding diseases. For example, the research is directly relevant to macular degeneration, glaucoma and diseases of the cornea. Ultimately his work may help make treatments such as corneal transplantation safer and retinal transplantation possible.

Born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Wayne attended Richland Grade and High Schools, where he demonstrated from an early age precocious abilities in science, writing and music. His first degree was in chemistry at Gettysburg College, where he was subsequently voted most outstanding alumnus. It was at Gettysburg that he met his beloved wife (and immunologist/colleague Joan Stein-Streilein). He completed his medical training in 1960 at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where he also pursued postdoctoral work in immunology and transplantation. His academic career also began there as an associate professor in the Department of Medical Genetics under the leadership of Dr Rupert Billingham, the world-renowned British immunologist. Billingham had earlier moved from University College London from Medawar's group, to the chair at Penn. Wayne's frequent interactions with members of the ‘Medawar’ school of immunology at this formative stage in his scientific career prompted him to remark recently that, ‘I have always felt a product of British science’.

His work at Penn (with Billingham) was notable in that he was among the first to use irradiated animals to study the basis of transplantation tolerance. It was also during this period that he pioneered studies of delayed hypersensitivity reactions in the skin. This work spanned both early genetic studies, and an astute analysis of the relevance of the work to graft vs. host disease.

Wayne moved with Billingham to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, where he was a professor of cell biology and director of the Immunology Training Program. The immunology training program he guided is now a storied ‘department’ from which many seminal contributions would emanate. Program faculty developed independent careers, and many students (e.g. Michael Carroll and Garnett Kelsoe) would go on to distinguished careers. Despite the additional responsibilities of directing the programme, Wayne continued studies on graft versus host disease (GVHD) in the Syrian hamster (together with Joan), and initiated pioneering work on immune privilege with Hank Kaplan. Whilst Medawar and Maumanee had shown that corneal allografts were poorly rejected relative to orthotopic skin grafts – culminating in Medawar's immune privilege hypothesis, virtually nothing was known concerning the cell and molecular basis of immune privilege in 1974. Streilein and Kaplan started to illuminate this ‘black box’ in this year when they published their pioneering work on the role of the spleen in this process. During this same period, Streilein and Kaplan were to publish equally remarkable studies on transplantation immunology in the anterior chamber of the eye, culminating in the discovery (with Jerry Niederkorn) of anterior chamber associated immune deviation (ACAID). This work attracted the attention of dozens of laboratories world-wide, with some of the most elegant current work being performed in Joan's laboratory. Jan Klein, Wayne and Zinkernagel also published classic papers on neonatal tolerance during this period, with the work foreshadowing the molecular basis of class I major histocompatibility complex (MHC) mediated presentation of foreign antigen to cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL).

Wayne's lab focused on these major research themes for the remainder of his scientific career, and made significant contributions to herpes simplex virus (HSV)-1 triggered keratitis and the field of retinal transplantation. His administrative talents would lead him to chair the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Miami School of Medicine, where he also held professorial appointments in microbiology, dermatology and ophthalmology. After 9 years in Miami, Wayne moved to Boston to become the Ankeny Director of Research at the Schepens Eye Research Institute. Assuming the presidency of the Schepens in 1995, Prof Streilein helped build the institute into the largest eye research institute in the USA, and one of the largest in the world. He did so by diversifying the research expertise of the Institute faculty, by recruiting major scientists to the Schepens, such as Patricia d'Amore, Gilles Benichou and Andrius Kazlauskas. He also nurtured the development of outstanding young scientists such as Dong Feng Chen and Michael Young. His impact also extended far beyond the walls of the Schepens, via his committee work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVC). ‘He was a valued member of the National Advisory Eye Council’, says Dr Paul Sieving, Director of the National Eye Institute of the US National Institutes of Health, ‘He gently led discussions in very productive ways. He was a giant among that outstanding group’.

Always a magnetic teacher and mentor, in recent years, Wayne encouraged and led the institute in a mission of public education – to increase awareness of the causes, preventions, new treatments and the latest research on blinding eye diseases. Throughout his career and even while in his leadership positions, Wayne continued to be a mentor for young scientists, and that role was a source of great joy for him. Over 100 students, fellows and young faculty members mentored by Wayne hold leadership positions in immunology and ophthalmology around the world. A few examples of individuals who trained with him include: Kaplan, Forman, Duncan, Niederkorn, Wilbanks, Ksander, Jager, Sonoda, Jiang, Kurimoto, Shimizu, Sano, Dai, Bacci, Nakamura, Dana, Yamada, Goslings, Taylor, Ma, Tanaka, Alard, Hori, Ohta, Kezuka, Wenkel, Masli and Sugita.

Beyond his professional contributions, friends, family and colleagues describe Wayne as a renaissance man, accomplished not only in science and medicine, but also as a writer and a pianist. Once a concert-level pianist, Wayne had recently enrolled in piano camp, which he had hoped to attend this spring to regain his proficiency. Family and friends also describe him as a lover of all types of music – from classical, to sitar to vocal jazz. He was also an expert on and a lover of the Japanese culture, which he studied passionately – collecting art, reading poetry and visiting beloved cities.

Wayne was the recipient of numerous awards, including a special MERIT grant from the National Eye Institute, which recognizes superior research achievements. He served as a visiting professor at numerous universities and was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Award of the American Association of Immunologists. In April 1996, he received the prestigious Proctor Award in recognition for outstanding achievement in research. and in 2002, he was named Honorary Professor at the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London. He especially cherished his appointment at UCL, formally establishing a direct connection between himself and one of the institutions where Billingham, Brent and Medawar formed the foundations of transplantation immunology, and initiated work on immune privilege and neonatal tolerance. Late in 2003, he spent a week at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology in his role as Honorary Professor, and was looking forward to additional roles in 2004 and 2005. He was to deliver a lecture at the Bicentennary Celebration of Moorfields Eye Hospital (partnered with the Institute of Ophthalmology), which was also meaningful to him as the founder of the Schepens Eye Research Institute (Charles Schepens) was the first fellow to train at Moorfields after the second world war.

Wayne leaves his beloved wife Joan, three children Laura Streilein Berend and William W. and Robert D. Streilein, and 11 grandchildren and brother David Streilein in Austin, Texas. He also leaves countless scientific colleagues in immunology, ophthalmology, dermatology and genetics with an enormous personal void.

We will all miss you enormously, Wayne. But your legacy is huge – your work, your humanity and most of all our memories of the grace and love you showered upon those around you.


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