Campus & Community

Pioneer in immunology Rosen, 75

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Fred S. Rosen, a world leader in pediatric immunology, died on May 21 a few days short of his 75th birthday.

Rosen was born in Newark, N.J., the only child of the late Phillip Rosen and Amelia Feld Rosen. Educated at Lafayette College, from which he later received an honorary degree, Rosen went on to Case Western Reserve University Medical School, where he developed his lifelong interest in the mechanisms of defense against infections.

After graduation from medical school, Rosen became a trainee in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital in Boston. There he met Charles A. Janeway, then the chief of the department of medicine and equally interested in infectious diseases. The two established a collaboration that resulted in deep explorations of the inherited disorders that cause severe susceptibility of children to infections. The immunology laboratory at Children’s Hospital became a lodestone for trainees from around the world, and Rosen became a leading figure in the World Health Organization’s efforts to define the complex “immunodeficiencies” that so illuminate the mechanisms by which humans and animals ward off infectious organisms.

Though Rosen was devoted to the science of immunology and received many honors and awards for his own research, his most powerful attachment was to his young patients. He was absolutely committed to the solution of the profound illnesses that assailed them. The development of intravenous gamma globulin treatment for the management of children born with an inability to make the protein was perhaps his greatest contribution. Those patients usually died in their teens. Now many are enjoying successful careers; at least one has become a physician.

Rosen’s efforts brought him international and local recognition. From 1970 to 1985, Rosen was chief of immunology at Children’s Hospital. Harvard Medical School recognized his talents by naming him the first incumbent of the James Gamble Professorship of Pediatrics. In 1986, he became the president of the CBR Institute, a blood and immunology research laboratory based at Harvard Medical School.

Rosen had countless friends and associates around the world, but his best friends were his friends’ children. He never married, but he solved the problem of family life by borrowing all those children, many of whom vastly preferred his company to that of their own parents. He understood children and he truly enjoyed them. He loved their games and joined in them with complete abandon. He openly supported their teenage rebellions from their parents and never revealed a secret. They loved him deeply long after they themselves married and had their own children, noted David G. Nathan, the Robert A. Stranahan Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School.

Rosen was a true polymath. He was a superb physician scientist, a brilliant writer, a collector of antique furniture and silver, a devotee of classical music and opera, and an inveterate traveler. All who knew him will sorely miss him, Nathan added.