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June 16, 1999

Max Samter, MD

Author Affiliations

Edited by Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1999;281(23):2255-2256. doi:10.1001/jama.281.23.2255

Max Samter, MD, emeritus professor of medicine, associate dean for clinical affairs and chief of staff of University Hospital at the University of Illinois, and retired founding director of the Max Samter Institute of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Grant Hospital of Chicago, died of cerebrovascular disease on February 9, 1999, at the age of 90.

Son of a Berlin physician, Dr Samter studied medicine at Freiburg, Innsbruck, and Berlin, where he received his MD degree in 1933. While still an intern at Charite Hospital, in a study of asthma he reported his inventive design of inhalational challenge with histamine and allergens—a 20-year forerunner of current-day bronchoprovocation for diagnostic demonstration of airways hyperactivity—and a classic publication in allergy. After Hitler's takeover removed Jewish physicians from university center training, Dr Samter spent the next 4 years in general practice in Karow, a small Berlin suburb. The fastest available BMW motorcycle, which he rode on house calls, brought him into "amiable" contact with Nazi storm troopers who gathered at the local agency for bike talk. Putting motorcyclophil camaraderie ahead of officially dictated anti-Semitism, storm troopers provided him with warnings of impending periodic Gestapo raids and opportunities to temporarily hide in Bavaria. In 1937, through a formal medical school appointment orchestrated by benefactors at Johns Hopkins University, Dr Samter obtained permission to leave Germany for the United States.

For the next 6 years he was a voluntary, nonsalaried research assistant. His first assignment was at Johns Hopkins, where, because his inability to speak English precluded patient contact, he was assigned to hematology research. Next he was at the University of Pennsylvania in the departments of anatomy (studying lymphocytes) and pharmacology—self-supported, using his fluency in French and German to do after-hours translations for Biological Abstracts. He then enlisted in the army.

In the World War II European theater, Dr Samter was with a field hospital unit that landed on Omaha Beach on D day. With the army's later need for officers knowledgeable in German, he became the military governor of a region of occupied territory the size of Rhode Island. At discharge, he had developed progressive percussion deafness as a result of proximity to combat-related explosions, and he therefore followed his rehabilitation counselors' advice to seek a laboratory-based career.

As research associate in biochemistry, Dr Samter began a 28-year stay at the University of Illinois, where fortuitous departmental research in immune phenomena favored a return to his early interest and undertaking investigations in hypersensitivity. Subsequent advances in hearing aid technology enabled him to take on clinical activities in the department of medicine and develop a large patient base, laboratories, teaching facility, and training program. His bridging of basic biomedical and clinical science provided a model for recruitment of full-time faculty to initiate organization and function of allergic disease sections pertinent to shaping the field's transition to a discipline. Integration of his scholarly concepts and insights with grounding in leukocyte biology, pharmacology, and biochemistry and their clinical applications was pivotal in opening new areas for study (eg, elucidation of eosinophilia, mechanisms of adverse drug reactions, pathophysiology of asthma, and histochemistry of inflammatory rhinosinusitis—especially characterization of the triad of aspirin intolerance, sinusitis with nasal polyps, and asthma: Samter's syndrome). In concurrent professional society matters, he provided leadership through direction of special projects and key committees, and the presidencies of the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology and the International Association of Allergology and Immunology, which honored him with multiple awards. For the Academy he developed innovative Research Council functions and played the initial liaison role with the American Board of Medical Specialties that ultimately led to specialty board certification in allergy and immunology.

Dr Samter's books include Regional Allergy (1954; botanical allergen surveys), Excerpts From Classics in Allergy (1969; historical recordings), Hypersensitivity to Drugs (1971), and Immunological Diseases (1965; renamed Samter's Immunological Diseases by the editors of the current fifth edition). Also ahead of its time, reflecting Samter the educator's wide range of bents—historical, cultural, philosophical, literary—and his warm interactions, civility, sensitivity, and concern for individual patients and their families, was his 1970s creation of the medical school course "Realities in Medicine." Through its objectives, students were introduced to ethics, patient-physician relationships, humanism, sociological issues, legal questions, civility, and a physician's societal role (JAMA. 1982;248:2090-2093, 2097). Following university retirement, on invitation from Grant Hospital in Chicago, Dr Samter founded an institute on education, research, and service, subsequently renamed in tribute by the hospital the Max Samter Institute of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Appreciating the intellectual resource of his broad acumen and stature as a judicious elder statesman, the Illinois Supreme Court in 1987 appointed him to a blue-ribbon panel investigating disciplinary supervision of lawyers.

Dr Samter is survived by his wife, Virginia; a son, Laurens Ackerman, MD; 2 daughters, Emily Gottlieb, MD, and Virginia Claire Barry, MD; 7 grandchildren; and 3 great-grandchildren.