in memoriam Ira Green


Dr. Ira Green, immunologist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD and honorary member of the Austrian Society of Allergology and Immunology, died on October 22, 2010 after a long bout with Alzheimer's disease. He was 84 years old.

Born in New York City, Dr. Green received his M.D. from the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in 1953. At the beginning of his career, Ira worked for four years as a hematologist at Montefiori Hospital in New York. His curiosity, his sharp and critical mind made him then change his career path to become an immunologist. To this end, he joined the Benacerraf Laboratory at New York University School of Medicine and in 1968, together with Dr. William Paul, moved to Bethesda, MD, after Dr. Benacerraf had been appointed Director of the Laboratory of Immunology of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Green became a senior investigator at this institution and held this position until 1986. He then joined the NCI Biologic Response Modifiers Program in Frederick, MD and in 1990 moved to the Agency for Health Care Policy Research. He retired from Government Service in 1994.

Dr. Green made a series of outstanding discoveries that led us to a better understanding of the cellular and molecular events resulting in an adaptive immune response. Of particular importance was his work on Immune response (Ir) genes which contributed decisively to the Nobel Prize that his mentor Benacerraf received in 1980. He continued this research with his postdoctoral fellow Ethan M. Shevach and observed that Ir gene products mediate their function on antigen-presenting cells. This finding was also critical for the elucidation of Langerhans cell antigen-presenting function, work that he carried out together with Georg Stingl, Stephen I. Katz and Ethan M. Shevach. Dr. Green was also among the first to use immunological methods for the characterization of normal and malignant leukocytes and, thus, provided the basis for the rapidly evolving field of immunolabeling.

Ira Green had a special relationship to Austria's scientific community, particularly to those researchers working in the fields of immunology and dermatology. The main reason for his affinity to our country was his wife Terry, a native Viennese. During their not so infrequent visits to Vienna, Ira established contacts with the representatives of Austria's fledgling immunological community (Martha Eibl, Adolf Lindner, Georg Wick, Othmar Foerster, Boris Albini, Walter Knapp) as early as the late 60's and early 70's. These interactions paved the way for many young Austrians to become postdoctoral fellows at the NIH and, as a consequence, independent investigators capable of establishing their own research programs. This long list includes, on a chronological basis, Georg Stingl, Thomas Luger, Josef Smolen, Hubert Pehamberger, Helmut Hintner, Werner Aberer, Christian Peschel, Wolfgang Holter, Wilhelm Kaulfersch, Winfried Graninger, Erwin Tschachler and, later, Elisabeth Payer, Clemens Scheinecker, Martin Aringer and Elisabeth Riedl. For all these individuals, whether working with him directly or indirectly, Ira Green acted as the "Austrian Ambassador at the NIH". He did so by sharing his enormous knowledge with us, by coming up with novel ideas challenging the mainstream and by bringing us into contact with individuals with different skills. This resulted in many exciting research projects but was also important in times of frustration when experiments simply did not work. Ira's networking often resulted in the resolution of seemingly insurmountable problems and gave us the motivation to continue. At the Embassy itself, i.e. at their house in Bethesda, Ira and Terry created an atmosphere of warmth and hospitality that made us all feel at home. It was American in its best sense, always cosmopolitan and yet had an unmistakable Austrian touch.

The Austrian Society of Allergology and Immunology respectfully acknowledges Dr. Ira Green's outstanding scientific contributions and achievements and is most grateful for the support and friendship that he graciously granted us through all these years. We will try our best to keep his legacy alive.

Georg Stingl, Medical University of Vienna, Austria



Wir thank the supporting members: