NIH Mourns William E. Paul, Pioneering Immunologist and Laboratory Chief

September 22, 2015

William E. Paul, M.D., an internationally renowned immunologist and long-time laboratory chief at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), died on September 18, 2015, at the age of 79.

As chief of the Laboratory of Immunology since 1970, Dr. Paul made numerous seminal discoveries, including groundbreaking work on T cell and cytokine biology that clarified the central roles of these cells and their products in immunity and disease. During his leadership of the NIH Office of AIDS Research from 1994 to 1997, he led development of the first comprehensive plan and a unified budget for all NIH-sponsored AIDS scientific activities. He also served in the U.S. Public Health Service, achieving the rank of rear admiral. Dr. Paul mentored numerous researchers during his long research career, many of whom went on to become leaders in their fields as independent investigators.

"Bill was a giant in the field of immunology, and a respected and beloved member of the NIH community," said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "He was a wonderful colleague and friend to me and to so many of us here at NIH and throughout the global immunology community. We have lost a research icon, and he will be sorely missed."

Dr. Paul was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 12, 1936. His lifelong support of public education grew from his education in New York's public schools, which he attended from elementary through medical school, graduating from Brooklyn College in 1956 and the State University of New York Downstate College of Medicine in 1960. Dr. Paul began his research training during medical school, studying growth hormones with George Talbert, Ph.D. After completing his clinical training at Massachusetts Memorial Hospital (now Boston Medical Center) and the National Cancer Institute, he solidified his desire to pursue immunology research and joined the laboratory of future Nobel Laureate Baruj Benacerraf, M.D., in 1964 at the New York University School of Medicine. He later moved with Dr. Benacerraf to NIAID in 1968, where he was appointed Chief of the Laboratory of Immunology two years later. The Laboratory of Immunology became one of the premier centers of immunological research, a testament to his scientific and leadership capacities and ability to foster outstanding research within his own group and among his colleagues.

"Bill was an inspirational scientific leader who encouraged those around him to do the very best science and who used all the resources at his command to promote their activities as independent investigators," said Ronald N. Germain, M.D., Ph.D., chief of NIAID's Laboratory of Systems Biology. "I was recruited to NIH by Bill and treasure the more than 30 years of remarkable scientific interactions I had with him and his extraordinary support for my research program. It is difficult to imagine the future without him."

Over the course of his career, Dr. Paul made great strides in the field of immunology, helping both the discipline and NIAID's scientific program blossom. He discovered interleukin-4, a key immune mediator, and established an extensive body of research that revealed its role in allergic and inflammatory diseases. Dr. Paul also delineated the mechanisms whereby naïve T cells develop into mature effector cells, which carry out essential tasks in the context of infection, allergy, asthma, autoimmunity, and inflammatory diseases. Dr. Paul published more than 600 scientific papers and summarized his career in an engaging article for the Annual Review of Immunology in 2014.

"Bill's research pioneered our understanding of how various cells in the immune system are activated and regulated, and his work has been applied to the study of many immune-mediated diseases," said Hugh Auchincloss, M.D., acting director of the NIAID Division of Intramural Research and deputy director for the Institute. "Bill also was well-known for being an outstanding mentor, and his laboratory trained exceptional researchers."

He received many honors, including the Founders Prize, Texas Instruments Foundation; Life Sciences Award, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology; Abbott Laboratories Award in Clinical and Diagnostic Immunology; the Max Delbruck Medal; and the Clemens von Pirquet Medal. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Excellence in Mentoring Award from The American Association of Immunologists and the Honorary Lifetime Membership Award from the International Cytokine Society.

Dr. Paul was chief editor of the Annual Review of Immunology from its inception until 2011, and he authored Fundamental Immunology, a leading textbook on immunology, which debuted in 1984. He was also a member of the editorial boards of Immunity and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; a member of the National Academy of Sciences, its Institute of Medicine, and the Association of American Physicians; and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Previously, he was President of both The American Association of Immunologists and the American Society for Clinical Investigation. Dr. Paul also wrote a general interest book, Immunity, published in September 2015.

Dr. Paul enjoyed tennis, swimming, theater, music, reading and traveling. He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Marilyn H. Paul; his sisters Linda Weinstock and Harriet Darvas; his sons Jonathan Carmel and Matthew Paul; and his grandchildren, Silvie, Jenna, Gloria and Charlotte Carmel, and Jacob and Lucia Mezey. Dr. Paul and his wife had made a point of taking each grandchild on a special trip, traveling to China, Alaska, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, and other destinations.

The funeral service was held at Temple Micah in Washington, DC, on September 21, followed by burial at Mount Lebanon Cemetery in Adelphi, Maryland.

Content last reviewed on September 22, 2015