Tomio Tada, immunologist and playwright, is dead

03tada_CA0Dr. Tomio Tada, a famous immunologist who later became a Noh playwright, died at the age of 76 on Apri 21. From the NYT:

Dr. Tada rose to prominence in the 1970s for a series of experiments that pointed to the existence of specialized white blood cells capable of selectively disarming the immune system.

When functioning properly, his theory went, these cells would prevent the immune system from attacking the body’s own organs or harmless substances, like pollen. Malfunctions could lead to allergies and autoimmune diseases, Dr. Tada believed.

His findings spurred a race among the world’s top immunologists to discover the cells, dubbed suppressor T cells. Efforts to detect them failed in the early 1980s, and the concept was largely discredited.

Dr. Tada became a leading advocate for the unpopular view that the suppressor cell would be found in time. In a 1988 letter in an immunology journal, Dr. Tada responded to critics with an Italian phrase, “Chi vivrà, vedrà,” or “Who will live, will see.”

Roughly a decade later, his basic ideas about immune suppression were more or less validated when another Japanese scientist, Dr. Shimon Sakaguchi of Kyoto University, identified regulatory T cells. They lack some of the predicted characteristics of Dr. Tada’s suppressor T cells but behave like them nonetheless.

Later in life, he became one of the few people who wrote new Noh plays (most performances featured scripts written 400+ years ago).

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