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Professor Don C. Wiley Obituary

Harvard College, 21 Dec 2001


Don C. Wiley, one of the most distinguished structural biologists of his generation, has died. He was 57.

Wiley, whose teaching and research career spanned three decades at Harvard University, conducted key research on the structure of viruses and of proteins in the human immune system. His work focused on the molecular mechanisms that enable viruses to infect cells, and on how cells respond to external challenges by presenting antigens and mobilizing defensive cells. A senior investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Wiley studied the structure of such viruses as the AIDS virus, Ebola, herpes simplex, and influenza. He examined the ways in which viruses bind to cell surfaces, enabling their entry into the cell, and the ways in which viruses evolve to infect different organisms and to escape the immune response of their hosts. By understanding these processes, Wiley sought to find new ways to combat these viruses.

Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard University President, said, "All of us are profoundly saddened by this news. Don Wiley was a brilliant biologist and a greatly admired member of this community, and his loss leaves a tremendous void. My deepest sympathies are with his family, friends, students and colleagues at this very difficult time."

According to Jeremy R. Knowles, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, "Don Wiley was a generous, imaginative, and questing scientist, whose work on viruses and on the nature of the immune response to infectious agents was truly illuminating. His research contributions were both important and transforming, and his collaborative search for a better understanding inspired students and colleagues in many scientific disciplines. The loss of this engaged and engaging colleague is a tragedy for Harvard, and for science."

Born October 21, 1944 in Akron, OH, Wiley grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Wiley received his undergraduate degree in physics from Tufts University in 1966. He completed his doctoral degree in biophysics in 1971, at Harvard University, under the direction of Harvard professor William N. Lipscomb, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist. Named an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in 1971, Wiley became an associate professor in 1975, and then professor of biochemistry in 1979.

In 1995, Wiley and Harvard colleague Jack L. Strominger won the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award for their work on how the body fights infections and can reject organ transplants. In 1999, Wiley and Strominger won the prestigious Japan Prize for their cumulative discoveries related to the functioning of the human immune system. This prize, awarded by the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan, recognizes original and outstanding achievements that advance knowledge and serve the cause of peace and prosperity for humankind. Wiley also worked closely during his career with another notable structural biologist, Harvard colleague Steve Harrison.

Dr. Wiley was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His other honors include the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University, the V. D. Mattia Award from the Roche Institute, the Gairdner Foundation International Award, and the Rose Payne Distinguished Scientist Award.

He is survived by his wife Katrin and their two children, as well as two children from a previous marriage.

© 2001 President and Fellows of Harvard College
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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