Dr. Thomas Alexander Waldmann

The CCR community is profoundly saddened by the recent passing of Thomas A. Waldmann, M.D., Chief Emeritus of the Lymphoid Malignancies Branch and NIH Distinguished Investigator.

Considered a giant in the field, Tom was a renowned immunologist whose more than 60-year career at the National Cancer Institute led to numerous high-impact discoveries that advanced the fields of organ transplantation, autoimmune disease and cancer. He was a leader in the study of cytokines and their receptors and of monoclonal antibodies, now a dominant form of cancer immunotherapy.

Thomas Alexander Waldmann, MD was born 9/21/1930. His parents Elizabeth Sipos Waldmann, a teacher, and Charles Waldmann, an engineer, were immigrants from Hungary. Being an engineer in the 1930’s led to many childhood moves, this may be why once Tom Waldmann MD put down roots in Maryland he stayed for more than 60 years.

Thomas Waldmann graduated from the University of Chicago in 1951. After graduating from Harvard Medical School he went on to train at the Massachusetts General Hospital where he met the love of his life Katharine Spreng who was his supervising resident, his boss, and the only woman on the house staff at the hospital at that time.

In 1954 Dr Waldmann received a $50 grant from Harvard Medical School along with his best friend Sherman Weissman to do research on erythropoietin in rabbits. This launched his career in scientific research that would continue spanning 8 decades. In 1956 he became a clinical associate at the National Institutes of Health/ National Cancer Institute (NIH/NCI). Here his love for science and his loyalty to the NIH flourished. He became Chief of the Metabolism branch (now the Lymphoid Malignancies branch) of the national cancer institute in 1971. At the NIH Thomas Waldmann was a champion of bench to bedside translational research – emphasizing both the value of basic science and the importance of applying it to the treatment of patients. As such for many years he chaired the Subcommittee of the Central Tenure Committee on Clinical Investigators. He was able to inspire many to tell the important story revealed by scientific research. He always asked the question, “what does your specific discovery tell us about the big picture?”

Thomas Waldmann’s research within the field of immunology has led to significant advances in the care of patients. By applying his elucidation of the ways cell interact and communicate through molecules called interleukins, a type of cytokine, including interlueken-2 (IL2) and interleukin 15 (IL 15) he was able to intervene in a meaningful way in patients with T-cell malignancies and multiple sclerosis. Thomas Waldmann’s research focused on interleukins their receptors, and use of interleukins and monoclonal antibodies to their receptors in the treatment of cancer and of autoimmune diseases. He studied the IL-2/IL-2 receptor and developed the first anti-cytokine receptor monoclonal antibody (anti-Tac). He introduced the first antibody to a receptor to receive FDA approval, humanized anti-Tac (daclizumab) He showed that daclizumab contributes to reducing renal transplant rejection and is of value in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. He demonstrated that daclizumab provides effective therapy for some patients with a previously invariably fatal leukemia, HTLV-I associated adult T-cell leukemia (ATL). He demonstrated that refractory and relapsed Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients could be effectively treated with daclizumab armed with Yttrium-90. Tom Waldmann co-discovered the cytokine interleukin 15 (IL-15). He demonstrated that IL-15 is useful in the treatment of cancer in mice and has completed a clinical trial using IL-15 in therapy of cancer patients.

In the early 1980s he studied immunoglobulin gene rearrangement and cell surface markers. In the 1950s and 1960s, he studied protein metabolism and especially the loss of proteins into the intestines. He described what is now known as Waldmann’s disease in 1961 and 57 years later handed the Thomas A. Waldmann Award for Excellence in Human Immunology to his colleague Michael Lenardo who discovered the molecular basis for Waldmann’s disease. Tom Waldmann MD published 22 papers at the age of 90, the last year of his life. He never retired. His mantra was focus and finish. His best days were his busiest ones. He felt his scientific work was like a fruit tree that he tended and he wanted to be there to enjoy the fruit of each new branch.

Thomas Waldmann was a member of, among other honorary societies, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Art of Sciences, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He was a fellow or honorary fellow of, among other societies and academies, the Royal Society of Medical Sciences, the National Academy of Inventors, the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology, the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences. Among other awards, he received the Milken Family Medical Foundation, Distinguished Basic Scientist Award, the Artois-Baillet Latour Health Prize, the 15th Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research, the Paul Ehrlich Medal, American College of Physicans Award for Distinguished Contributions to Science as Related to Medicine, and the Service to America Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal 2009.

In addition to his scientific career Tom Waldmann was an avid photographer, an art and literature enthusiast (he read 100 books during his last year), a nature lover, a punster, a story teller, a lover of music including folk and spirituals (he saw Marion Anderson sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at age 8) an adventurous traveler and a lover of good food. He took his family on many adventures following and sharing these many passions. For Thomas Waldmann family always came first and he was always available, supportive and loving to his family. He was engaged and enthusiastic about the activities and pursuits of each of his family members. He was sensitive to their needs, desires and emotions. He is predeceased by his beloved wife of 62 years, Katharine Waldmann MD and his daughter-in-law Elisabetta, he is survived by his 3 Children Richard and his wife Janet, Robert and Carol and her husband Johnny, and his seven grandchildren whom he cherished: Marina, Kathy, Clarissa, Ember, Jonathan, Orion and Arno.