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Biographical Memoirs, Volume 85
November 25, 1913–December 3, 1993
BY GERALD WEISSMANN
THE LIFE OF LEWIS THOMAS spanned a golden age of American medicine, an era when, in his words, “our oldest art became the youngest science.” Thomas played a major role in that transformation; he was known among scientists as an innovative immunologist, pathologist, and medical educator. He became known to the wider public as a deft writer whose essays bridged the two cultures by turning the news of natural science into serious literature. Witty, urbane, and skeptical, he may have been the only member of the National Academy of Sciences to win both a National Book Award and an Albert Lasker Award. He is certainly the only medical school dean whose name survives on professorships at Harvard and Cornell, a prize at Rockefeller University, a laboratory at Princeton, and on a book (The Lives of a Cell) that is eleventh on the Modern Library’s list of the best 100 nonfiction books of the century.
Thomas made several important discoveries in the field in which he was a pioneer, immunopathology. He found that neutrophils were important mediators of fever and shock brought about by bacterial endotoxins or antigen/antibody reactions; these launch cascades of limited proteolysis in the blood. Therefore, if animals are depleted of neutrophils or given heparin they are protected against tissue injury 315