For more than 30 years Trustee Dr. Richard L. Wasserman ’70, a pediatric immunologist, has been treating patients who suffer from faults in their immune systems. Wasserman has committed his life to thousands of patients while also maintaining an equally steadfast dedication to the Colleges through philanthropy and career advice to students interested in the world of medicine and healthcare.
While on campus for Board Weekend in October, Wasserman shared his insights into the scientific and human sides of immunology in a lecture to students in Assistant Professor of Biology Patricia Mowery’s Immunology class. In his talk, Wasserman discussed the importance of what prominent immunologist Robert Good calls ‘experiments of nature,’ natural diseases that can be studied to determine how the immune system works.
“These experiments of nature have made major contributions to our fundamental understanding of immunology,” said Wasserman. “The hundreds of thousands of years of evolution involved in the development of the mammalian immune system are all about the relationship between the microbial world and the mammalian world.”
Wasserman discussed antibody production disorders, T-cell disorders and deficiencies of compliment. In order to understand the defects in the immune system, he explained, one needs to have some understanding of human disease.
“The purpose of this evening is to try to give clinical context to immunology; that is, how the things you have been learning about in immunology affect people,” Wasserman said. “When I explain to families immunologically what is going on, I ask them to imagine a picket fence. A newborn human is born with the framework of a picket fence, but with no pickets. As children develop, they encounter antigens in the environment, and every time they do, they make a new picket. Gradually over time, those pickets fill in to a solid wall of defense against infection. Some people have gaps in those pickets and they are very specific. They can do fine against chicken pox, they can do fine against tetanus, but they do not do fine against other specific antigens.”
Throughout the lecture, students asked questions and sought clarity on complex immunological matters. Bruton’s disease, Common Variable Immunodeficiency (CVID) and Specific Antibody Deficiency were among the diseases that Wasserman discussed at length, expanding upon the information that students had learned in class with Mowery.
“Dr. Wasserman provided a real-world perspective for the class. Students in Immunology review case studies, but it’s never the same as hearing about real cases from a real practicing immunologist,” said Mowery. “Additionally, he opened up students’ knowledge about many therapies for different immunodeficiencies and provided a timeframe for the students, helping them realize how recent most of our immunological knowledge is.”
“It was interesting to see how all the parts of the immune system really work together to protect us and when one element malfunctions, many other systems suffer as well,” remarked Josephine Stout ’12, a biology major. “But perhaps the most valuable advice that I took from Dr. Wasserman was to remember that science and medicine are always evolving and we are constantly learning more about the immune system. Even 20 years ago, we knew so little about immunity and now research has afforded us much greater knowledge about the way immune cells interact and function. Because of this, we should always be looking to question and learn from research in hopes of gaining a better understanding of this complicated process.”
The following morning, Wasserman expanded his conversation to healthcare and related career fields with first year and sophomore pre-med students at an informal breakfast in the Creedon Room.
Wasserman is clinical professor of pediatrics at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and president of Dallas Allergy-Immunology. As a member of the HWS Board of Trustees since 2006, he serves on committees focusing on enrollment management, buildings and grounds, student life and technology. Wasserman has contributed to the Colleges in immeasurable ways, showing steadfast dedication to the Abbe Center for Jewish Life, funding the construction of the Tina Wasserman Kosher Kitchen, named in honor of his wife, a renowned kosher chef, and the Wasserman Garden of Quiet Repose. He has also served as past president and member of Hobart College Alumni Council for several years.
While a student at Hobart, Wasserman majored in chemistry, graduating with honors. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Orange Key Society, Chimera, the Druid Society, Hobart Student Court and worked on the staff of the Herald.