August 3, 2020
In Memoriam: Noel R. Rose, 1927–2020
We lost a great scientist, teacher, and colleague Thursday when Noel R. Rose, MD, PhD, passed away at age 92.
Recognized as a father of autoimmune disease research, Noel made an indelible mark on science and his students at the School. He served as chair of what was then the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases here at the School from 1982 to 1993.
Exceptionally kind and humble, Noel always looked out for the well-being of faculty and students. I admired his steadfast commitment to excellence coupled with his dry sense of humor.
The son of a physician and a homemaker, Noel penned an essay in ninth grade about his future career as a microbiologist. He titled it “The Small Game Hunter,” according to a 2014 Hopkins Gazette article.
He began his groundbreaking autoimmune disease research in 1956. At the University of Buffalo School of Medicine, Noel and his mentor Ernest Witebsky, MD, discovered that Hashimoto’s disease—hypothyroidism—could be reproduced in animals by immunization with thyroglobulin. The research revealed that animals produced an immune response that inflamed and destroyed their own thyroid glands. The landmark discovery led to the creation of a whole new class of disease and research for treatments and cures.
Today, autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis are known to affect more than 20 million Americans and encompass more than 100 chronic conditions.
While on the faculty of SUNY Buffalo School of Medicine from 1951 to 1973, he made his next major discovery: the genetic basis of autoimmune disease.
After serving as a department chair at Wayne State University School of Medicine, he joined Johns Hopkins in 1982 as chair of what is now the W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology.
“As his successor as department chair, I benefitted greatly from Noel’s perspective and advice. In his own quiet and considerate way, he contributed to science and the School of Public Health in multiple ways,” recalled Diane Griffin, MD, PhD, a University Distinguished Service Professor at the Bloomberg School who served as MMI chair from 1994 through 2014.
In 1991, Noel and Virginia T. Ladd founded the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, the primary research and advocacy group for autoimmune diseases, which has worked closely with Noel and the Johns Hopkins University Autoimmune Disease Research Clinic. For 20 years, Noel chaired the organization’s scientific committee and spearheaded the biannual Noel R. Rose Scientific Colloquium, which convenes the nation’s leading researchers in autoimmune and related diseases. He also organized the annual Autoimmunity Day of research at Johns Hopkins.
In 1999, he founded the Johns Hopkins Center for Autoimmune Disease Research.
He held numerous leadership roles from president of the School’s Faculty Senate to director of the PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center for Autoimmune Disorders. He was editor or co-editor of 23 books, most notably the textbook The Autoimmune Diseases, and published more than 880 articles and book chapters.
Noel was born in Stamford, Connecticut, on December 3, 1927. He received his BS in zoology in 1948 from Yale University, a PhD in medical microbiology from University of Pennsylvania in 1951, and his MD in 1964 from the State University of New York, Buffalo.
His many accolades include the Founder’s Distinguished Service Award from the American Society for Microbiology, the Nikolaus Copernicus Medal from the Polish Academy of Sciences, and Golden Goose Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Noel leaves a legacy of scientific excellence and commitment to fighting disease that will benefit the world for generations to come.
We extend our deepest condolences to Noel’s family, colleagues, and students. The School will organize a future tribute to Noel when the pandemic allows.
If you would like to make a contribution to honor Noel’s memory, please donate online or by check to the Noel R. Rose Fund in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology.