In Memoriam: Tom Waldmann

Thomas A. Waldmann, MD 1930-2021


Dr. Thomas A. Waldmann, the second President of CIS (1988-1989), passed away on September 25, 2021 at the age of 91. Tom was a giant in the field of clinical immunology taking many of his seminal basic science observations from the bench to the bedside. His professional career spanned more than 60 years of continuous scientific investigation as a Senior Investigator, Branch Chief and Distinguished Investigator at the NIH. During his extraordinary career he made numerous high impact discoveries in the fields of primary immune deficiency disorders, autoimmune disease, cancer and transplantation. His initial work focused on immunoglobulin metabolism and during these investigations he defined a lymphatic loss disorder that is often referred to as Waldmann’s disease. He then moved into cytokine research defining the alpha chain of the IL-2 receptor and developing novel insights into cytokine-cytokine receptor interactions. His lab developed the first monoclonal antibody to a cytokine receptor (anti-Tac) that also became the first monoclonal approved for use as a human therapeutic. Tom continued his pioneering work in cytokine biology by discovering IL-15 along with his co-workers. This work not only provided critical insights into the function of IL-15 but also resulted in clinical trials evaluating IL-15 as a therapeutic. His quest for understanding the immune system and its role in human disease never ceased and during his illustrious career he trained dozens of young scientists, many of whom have become leaders in the field of clinical and basic immunology. This fact attests to the level of commitment he had for mentoring the next generation of scientists in the field, something that he relished and a quality that I can personally experience during the three years I spent in the Waldmann lab.


Tom was elected to the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as numerous major scientific awards too numerous to itemize. During his career he had more than 880 publications and presented more than 100 named or honorary lectureships. He once said in an interview with the Washington Post, “Science is a river. You’re always building on the past. You might be able to turn over a rock and find something exciting; you don’t want to give up and say, ‘This is all there is.’ . . . It’s like planting a fruit tree that has a long duration, and when it comes time to harvest the oranges or whatever, you don’t want to leave.” He definitely left his mark on our field and many of the members of CIS. Tom Waldmann will be missed not only for his brilliance and many discoveries but also for the insight, guidance, sense of humor and wit that he brought to his colleagues and friends.


Submitted by Thomas Fleisher, MD, CIS President 2004-200