NIAID's Asofsky, Immunologist and Mentor, Leaves Legacy
Dr. Richard M. Asofsky, a scientist and administrator at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1963, died of cancer on Jan. 22 at age 66. He was known to colleagues as "an exceptional scientist, a remarkable human being and a loyal friend."
NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci said, "Dr. Asofsky's legacy includes not only his remarkable scientific accomplishments, but the many students, medical fellows and postdocs he has trained and mentored through the years."
Dr. Richard M. Asofsky
Asofsky served NIH and NIAID with distinction and energy for 37 years beginning as a member of what was then called the Laboratory of Germfree Animal Research until his last position as associate director for special emphasis projects in NIAID's Division of Intramural Research.
Dr. Thomas J. Kindt, director of DIR, said, "Dick gave his heart and soul to improve research training programs and recruit underrepresented minorities into the biomedical sciences. Although we will miss his intense personal efforts in that area, he would be glad to know we remain committed to the programs he has initiated."
Asofsky was instrumental to NIAID's Introduction to Biomedical Research Program, which acquaints academically talented minority students from across the country with career opportunities in biomedical research at NIH.
Born in Brooklyn, Asofsky completed his premedical training at Cornell University in 1954 and earned his medical degree from the State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn in 1958.
He joined the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps in 1963 as a senior assistant surgeon. After working in NIAID's Laboratory for Germfree Animal Research in 1966, he became head of the lab's experimental pathology section. In 1968, he was named medical officer and head of the experimental pathology section of the Laboratory of Microbial Immunity in NIAID. Later, he served as assistant chief and chief of that laboratory.
In a heartfelt eulogy at Asofsky's memorial service on Jan. 27 at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, Dr. William E. Paul said Asofsky's important experiments "still reverberate in immunology."
According to Paul, those experiments explored the role of certain immune cells in the body's ability to distinguish its own cells from those of foreign invaders such as infectious microbes or transplanted organs. For example, Asofsky showed that the group of immune cells known as T lymphocytes, or "T-cells," were actually a mixture of separate populations with distinct functions. Before any of the modern research tools were available, he utilized an ingenious system to demonstrate that two classes of T cells were required to launch a cellular response known as graft-versus-host disease. Those landmark studies, said Paul, laid the foundation for concepts that dominate contemporary immunology.
"Dick was cognizant of how valuable highly characterized cell lines were to the elucidation of basic cellular mechanisms in immunology," said Paul. As a trained pathologist, Asofsky developed several critical laboratory cultures of immune cells that allowed him and others to study the cells' properties and eventually to discover the basis of how the immune system recognizes and handles potentially threatening molecules. Descendents of those cell cultures are still widely used in immuno-logy research today.
Asofsky also made important contributions to understanding how chemicals known as cytokines are produced.
He received the Arthur S. Flemming Award as one of the 10 outstanding young men and women in the federal government in 1971. He was cited for his "brilliant research career and significant contributions to the scientific literature." He also received the Department of Health, Education and Welfare Superior Service Award for his research in 1971.
In his spare time, Asofsky was an ardent fan of classical music and opera.
Survivors include wife Leah, children Rebecca and David, grandchildren Amanda and Elena, mother Pauline and sister Marjorie Zucker.
In his memory, contributions may be sent to Montgomery Hospice Society's Casey House, 6001 Muncaster Mill Rd., Rockville, MD 20855.
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