Certain white blood cells, called phagocytes, engulf and destroy harmful bacteria. UW’s Dr. Seymour Klebanoff discovered in 1967 that these cells produce their own antibacterial, an enzyme called myeloperoxidase. This revolutionary discovery changed science’s understanding of the body’s natural defense mechanisms in fighting infections, advanced knowledge about inflammation, and pointed to the many roles of oxygen metabolism.
Because his initial discovery of the production and action of myeloperoxidase, followed by 40 years of other seminal contributions to uncovering the body’s chemical weapons against bacteria and viruses, Klebanoff is considered to be both a pioneer and a continuing leader in studies of the body’s infection-fighting immune system. He is the author of more than 200 research papers. His work led to new insights and approaches in the study of cancer, viruses (including HIV), and other infectious diseases.
Klebanoff is now a professor emeritus in medicine, Division of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and remains active in his field.
On Nov. 3, Klebanoff was honored for his lifetime of research excellence and his important findings by the Association of American Medical Colleges at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C. He received the association’s Award for Distinguished Research in the Biomedical Sciences.
He was also recognized for encouraging several generations of physician/scientists to enter the field of infectious disease research. His ability to motivate so many young scientists has been ascribed by his colleagues to the focus and force of his scholarship. Klebanoff has also been described as gentle, modest and humorous as a friend, patient and dedicated as a teacher, eager to learn from his students, and warm and engaged with his family.
He is the past director of two major programs at the UW for training physician scientists: the Research Training Unit and the Medical Scientist Training Program, in which a highly select group of students earn both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees.
Klebanoff received an M.D. with honors from the University of Toronto and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from University College London. He completed a fellowship in pathological chemistry at the University of Toronto, and an Arthritis and Rheumatism Foundation Fellowship at Rockefeller Institute in New York. He joined the University of Washington School of Medicine faculty in 1962.
He is member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. He has received the MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health, the Marie T. Bonazinga Award of the Society for Leukocyte Biology, the Alexander Fleming Award of the Infectious Disease Society, and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Infectious Disease Research.