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February 2005

J. Wayne Streilein, MD (1935-2004)

Arch Ophthalmol. 2005;123(2):289-290. doi:10.1001/archopht.123.2.289

On March 15, 2004, the world of ophthalmic and vision research lost a giant with the passing of J. Wayne Streilein, MD. Wayne served as president and CEO of Schepens Eye Research Institute (SERI) and was the vice-chair of research in the Department of Ophthalmology and professor of ophthalmology and dermatology at Harvard University at the time of his death. He leaves his beloved wife Joan, 3 children (Laura Streilein Berend and William W. and Robert D. Streilein), 11 grandchildren, and a brother, David Streilein.

J. Wayne Streilein, MD

J. Wayne Streilein, MD

Wayne Streilein was born on June 19, 1935, in Johnstown, Pa. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Gettysburg College, where he was voted outstanding alumnus. He completed his medical training in 1960 at the University of Pennsylvania and began his academic career as a member of the Department of Medical Genetics at the same institution. It was at the University of Pennsylvania that he would be profoundly influenced by the world-renowned immunologist Rupert Billingham, who introduced him to the phenomenon of immune privilege. In 1971, Wayne moved to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where he began his groundbreaking research on ocular immune privilege. In 1984, he was appointed chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Miami. After 9 years of productive research at the University of Miami, he moved to Boston to become the director of research at SERI and professor in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Dermatology at Harvard Medical School. He was subsequently appointed president and CEO of SERI and was immersed in an ambitious and highly successful campaign to expand the research facilities at SERI at the time of his death.

The breadth and depth of Wayne’s accomplishments are extraordinary. He was a teacher, mentor, colleague, renowned scientist, and, most of all, a dear friend to hundreds who were privileged to have made his acquaintance. He was a magnetic teacher who gave spell-binding lectures that clarified even the most complicated topics. As a mentor, he trained more than 100 fellows and graduate students who have ascended to prominent positions in academia, research, and industry. His accomplishments as a researcher are prodigious. He published well over 400 articles in peer-reviewed journals and almost 200 book chapters and review articles. A pioneer in a wide range of areas in ocular immunology, he recognized the importance of ocular antigen–presenting Langerhans cells in corneal biology and characterized their effect in the immune rejection of corneal transplants. He single-handedly introduced, characterized, and championed the concept of ocular immune privilege. In spite of enormous demands as an administrator, he maintained a vibrant and incredibly productive research program. Shortly before his untimely death, he learned that the competing renewal applications for 2 of his research grants had received outstanding scores and that both were to be funded—a remarkable accomplishment for anyone, let alone a person who was directing what is arguably the most prestigious and best-funded eye institute in North America and perhaps the world.

Wayne was the recipient of numerous awards, including a Merit grant from the National Eye Institute, the Alcon Research Institute Award, the Distinguished Service Award of the American Association of Immunologists, and the Proctor Award. In September 2002, he was appointed honorary professor at the University College London Institute of Ophthalmology. This honor was particularly gratifying for him, as it was emblematic of his lifelong affinity with British science and his heritage as a product of the Billingham/Medawar school of immunology.

Wayne was more than an outstanding scientist, writer, and administrator. He was an accomplished pianist who was planning to miss his first Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology meeting in more than 25 years to attend a music camp. He was a lover of all types of music, art, and cultures, as well as a devotee of Japanese culture and an avid collector of Japanese art. He loved the Japanese people and the feeling was mutual. He was a devoted father and grandfather whose eyes would light up when discussing his beloved grandchildren.

Although his accomplishments as a scientist and administrator are remarkable, the true legacy of J. Wayne Streilein is found in the people whom he influenced. He had the capacity to evoke insights from everyone, whether it be a Nobel Prize laureate such as Sir Peter Medawar or the animal technician who changed the bedding in the mouse cages. Wayne would engage each in thought-provoking conversations, and they would walk away with the feeling of being important in his life, and persons who possessed profound insights into issues that they had not previously contemplated. When he entered a room, the conversations would soon elevate to a higher plane and all would feel to have something significant to add to the discussions. He simply brought out the best in everyone.

It is impossible to summarize the life and contributions of a truly remarkable individual such as J. Wayne Streilein. Perhaps the most fitting way is to refer to the words that he used to describe his relationship with his mentor, Rupert Billingham. Shortly after Billingham’s death, Wayne sent his current and former fellows the following note:

Throughout our lives, we experience losses through the deaths of individuals whom we know well and love. In my advancing maturity, I have come to realize that these are not merely irreplaceable losses. They can also be bittersweet opportunities to ponder the connectivities among individual lives, and the growth and evolution of shared ideas. I am cognizant of the flow of ideas that have passed to and through me, and I am fortunate to have found trainees willing to receive these ideas and able to fashion them into discoveries that bring truth closer and closer.. .  .

Correspondence: Dr Niederkorn, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, 5323 Harry Hines Blvd, Dallas, TX 75390.