NEI’s Nussenblatt Dies at 67
Dr. Robert Nussenblatt, chief of the Laboratory of Immunology at the National Eye Institute, died of cancer on Apr. 17 at age 67. He came to NIH in 1977 and proved to be a tireless scientist, research leader, mentor, clinician and patient advocate.
Nussenblatt was a world-renowned expert on inflammatory diseases affecting the eye, including uveitis. He literally wrote the book on the subject—Uveitis: Fundamentals and Clinical Practice—now in its fourth edition. He authored several other books and more than 600 articles in scientific journals.
Many patients with ocular inflammatory disease endure long-term treatment with medications that have unwanted and sometimes intolerable side effects. Nussenblatt dedicated his career to understanding the mechanisms of uveitis and improving treatment. One of his major accomplishments was demonstrating that cyclosporine was effective as a steroid-sparing agent, which has since become the standard of care for non-infectious uveitis. He also led research to test the biologic agent daclizumab as a treatment for uveitis and helped pave the way for its use in treating some types of multiple sclerosis.
His leadership roles at NIH included clinical director and scientific director of NEI. He was also a senior advisor to the deputy director of the NIH Intramural Research Program, associate director (clinical director) of the NIH Center for Human Immunology and acting scientific director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine from 2004 to 2012. Nussenblatt pursued team science at an international scale. He led the UNITE consortium, which partners NEI with sites in the United Kingdom, South China and Hong Kong in the study of ocular inflammatory diseases. He had honorary degrees from around the world.
Nussenblatt’s commitment to his patients was remarkable. He always put patients first, never hesitating to drop everything to tend to their needs. He routinely exceeded the expectations of patients and families. He always made time to talk and had an uncanny ability to remember almost anyone he met, even acquaintances he had not seen for decades.
By training other clinicians, Nussenblatt influenced patient care worldwide. Over the span of his 39 years at NIH, he mentored more than 67 fellows who are now practicing around the globe. He received the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Life Achievement Honor Award in 2011. Additionally, he had spoken at more than 66 invited lectureships around the world. He was recently nominated to become a distinguished NIH investigator.