In Memoriam: World Renowned Yale Imunobiologist and "Father of Innate Immunity," Charles Janeway

Charles Alderson Janeway, Jr., M.D., professor of immunobiology at the Yale University School of Medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator died on April 12 at age 60 in New Haven after a long illness.

Janeway was one of the leading immunologists of his generation whose ideas formed many of the concepts that are the basis of immunology today. He made major contributions to our understanding of T lymphocyte biology. He is renowned for his recent work on innate immunity, which is the body’s first line of defense against infection.

With brilliant insight, Janeway predicted in 1989 that pattern recognition receptors would mediate the body’s ability to recognize invasion by microorganisms. This striking prediction was made first on theoretical grounds and subsequently incisive experimental work in his laboratory established the underlying mechanisms. In this way, Janeway was one of the key fathers of what has become the new field of innate immunity, perhaps the most exciting area of immunologic research in recent times.

“Charlie’s contributions to immunobiology have been profound,” said Yale School of Medicine Dean David Kessler, M.D. “Charlie Janeway will be remembered as a towering intellect and leading citizen of this Medical School and the University. We shall all miss him.”

Born in Boston on February 5, 1943 to Charles A. and Elizabeth B. Janeway, Janeway was raised in Weston, Mass., where he formed several lifelong friendships. He was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., and Harvard College, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. His interest in medicine was inspired by his parents: his father was Physician-in-Chief at Boston Children’s Hospital from 1946 to 1974, and his mother was a social worker at the Boston Lying-In Hospital.

By earning his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1969, Janeway joined a long family line of prominent physicians. In addition to his father, his grandfather, Theodore C. Janeway, was the first full-time professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and his great-grandfather, Edward G. Janeway, was the New York City Health Commissioner.

Janeway trained in basic-science research with Hugh McDevitt at Harvard, John Humphrey at the National Institute for Medical Research in England, and with Robin Coombs at Cambridge University in England. He completed an internal medicine internship at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. Following five years of immunology research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., under William E. Paul, and two years at Uppsala University in Sweden under Hans Wigzell, he joined the Yale faculty in 1977. In 1983 he was promoted to Professor of Pathology and in 1988 he became one of the founding members of the newly created Section of Immunobiology at Yale University School of Medicine.

During his career, Janeway published more than 300 scientific papers. He was the principal author of the acclaimed textbook “Immunobiology: The Immune System in Health and Disease,” now in its 5th edition. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and won a number of awards, including the American Association of Immunologists Lifetime Achievement Award and the Avery-Landsteiner Award, the highest honor of the German Society of Immunology. He served on the board of directors of several research institutes, including the Trudeau Institute, the Jackson Laboratory and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. He was president of the American Association of Immunologists from 1997-1998.

Janeway took pride in training medical students, undergraduate and graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows, many of whom are now professors in immunology departments around the world. A gifted teacher, his lively lectures won him Yale’s Bohmfalk Teaching Award in 1991.

Friends, colleagues and family remember him as “Charlie,” one who loved sharing outdoor activities with his family, especially hiking and fly-fishing in New York’s Adirondack Mountains and sailing the waters off of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. He treasured the poetry of Robert Frost and illustrated a number of Frost’s poems with linoleum block prints.

Janeway is survived by his wife and colleague of 25 years, H. Kim Bottomly, also a professor of immunobiology at the Yale School of Medicine; three daughters: Katherine A. Janeway, M.D., of Cambridge, Mass., and Hannah H. Janeway and Megan G. Janeway, both of New Haven; three sisters: Anne Janeway of Marlboro, Vt., Elizabeth J. Gold of Toronto, Ontario, and Barbara B. Janeway of Newfields, N.H.; three nephews and one niece; and one grandnephew and one grandniece.

A memorial service for the public will be held at a future date to be announced. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to a memorial fund to benefit training in immunology.

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