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Dr. Fritz Bach

Transplantation and Immunology Pioneer Fritz Heinz Bach, MD, Passes Away
Fritz Heinz Bach, MD, Emeritus Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and longstanding member of the Department of Surgery, the Division of Transplantation, and the Transplant Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, passed away at his home on August 14, 2011 after a long illness. He was 77.

Dr. Bach was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1934, the younger of two sons of Leo Bach and Gertrude Rosenfeld. After Kristallnacht (the infamous "Night of Broken Glass" in 1938), he fled with his brother, Berthold, to England on the Kindertransport, where he was later reunited with his parents. An American soldier sponsored the Bach family's emigration to the United States, and they settled in Burlington, Vermont.

Dr. Bach graduated from Harvard University, attended the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and received his MD from Harvard Medical School. He completed his internship and residency training at New York University, Bellevue Hospital, and a fellowship in genetics. In 1964 he described the mixed lymphocyte culture (MLC) reaction for the purpose of testing tissue compatibility between donors and recipients for organ and bone marrow transplantation.

In 1965, Dr. Bach joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he spent the next 14 years. During his tenure there, he made several major scientific discoveries that over the ensuing decades resulted in countless lives being saved. In 1967, he led the team that performed the first successful matched bone marrow transplant on a patient at the same time that his colleague, Robert A. Good, MD, performed a similar procedure using the MLC in Minnesota. He described the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) Class II locus and its antigens, part of the major histocompatibility complex in humans, and characterized the immunobiology of other major histocompatibility antigens that play an important role in organ and bone marrow transplantation.

Dr. Bach was on the faculty of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, from 1979-1992, where he continued pioneering studies in the immunogenetics of T cell immune responses. He was recruited to the New England Deaconess Hospital Department of Surgery in 1992 and became director of the Sandoz Center for Immunobiology. In 1995, he became a faculty member of newly merged Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and was appointed the Lewis Thomas Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

For the next decade he focused his energies on the problem of vascular rejection in xenotransplantation, making many seminal contributions that helped define a new line of investigation in xenotransplantation that was pursued by laboratories around the world. At the same time, he recognized the importance of genes whose purpose is to provide protection against stress and disease, and was a pioneer in describing their role in the cell. He studied how to take advantage of these cytoprotective and homeostatic systems in order to apply them in clinical diseases and inflammation, particularly the protective gene heme oxygenase and its product, carbon monoxide. He was named the Lewis Thomas Distinguished Professor of Surgery in 2003 when Douglas Hanto, MD, PhD, succeeded him as the Lewis Thomas Professor.

During his illustrious and remarkably productive career, Dr. Bach had more than 800 scientific papers published in high-impact journals, including more than 50 in Science, Nature, and the New England Journal of Medicine.

In recognition of his groundbreaking research in transplantation and immunology, Dr. Bach received many prestigious awards and honors throughout his career. In 1998, he was awarded the Medawar Prize by the Transplantation Society, which is universally recognized as the highest award for outstanding contributions to the field of organ transplantation.

A dedicated teacher, Dr. Bach trained and mentored countless doctoral students and junior faculty members, in whom he infused his indelible enthusiasm for scientific hypotheses and inquiry. He treasured a photo taken of him early in his career delivering a lecture explaining a novel genetic hypothesis he had constructed because he later showed his idea to be completely wrong.

Dr. Bach was a member of numerous professional societies, including the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the American Association of Immunologists, the Transplantation Society, and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, to which he was named an honorary member in 1992. He was also a charter member of the International Bone Marrow Transplant Registry and served on the Weizmann Institute International Board of Governors.

Dr. Bach was on numerous editorial boards and served as editor of Clinical Immunobiology with Robert A. Good, MD, and Editor-in-Chief of XENO. In addition, he was a member of many influential councils and advisory committees, including the International Transplantation Society (council member), the International Bone Marrow Transplant Advisory Committee (chair), the International Histocompatibility Testing Workshops (councilor), and the NIH Experimental Study Section (member).

Dr. Bach had wide-ranging interests that included classical music, travel, food, sailing, tennis, spy novels, and Sunday news shows. He was married twice - to Marilyn Lee Brenner and to Jeanne Elizabeth Gose. He is survived by his six children and four grandchildren.

Dr. Bach's life came full circle. In 2004, he had his Austrian citizenship restored, and in 2005 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of Medicine from the University of Vienna, where he had started a lab and was training young scientists.

"The members of the Department of Surgery and the entire BIDMC and Harvard Medical School communities share with me the sadness over learning of the passing of this brilliant scientist, who has contributed enormously to the fields of immunology and transplantation over his long and distinguished career," said Douglas W. Hanto, MD, PhD, Chief of the BIDMC Division of Transplantation and Clinical Director of the Transplant Institute.

A memorial service for Dr. Bach was held on August 18 in Salem, Mass. In lieu of flowers, Dr. Bach would have wanted any donations to go to Amnesty International, UNICEF, or Médicins Sans Frontières. The BIDMC Department of Surgery is planning a symposium for 2012 in his honor.