Thomas Waldmann, M.D.
In 1981, Dr. Thomas Waldmann was among the physicians to see the first
patient with AIDS admitted to the NIH Clinical Center. Unfortunately,
neither he nor his colleagues knew at the time what AIDS was.
By then, Dr. Waldmann already had spent 25 years at the National Cancer
Institute studying human immune deficiencies. His laboratory had made
significant contributions to our understanding of how the immune system
works and how it goes awry. When a 35-year-old man was referred to the
NIH Clinical Center with multiple infections and a dangerously low white
blood cell count, Dr. Waldmann and his fellow physicians tried to determine
what was wrong. “We drew together a great number of individuals
from the NIH community,” he comments. “We were all groping,
trying to understand what was going on.” When, shortly after the
man’s arrival, the first report of a new immunodeficiency disease
in gay men was published by what was known then as the Centers for Disease
Control, this helped them put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Although AIDS was still an unknown entity, Dr. Waldmann and his colleagues
began to reveal some key features of the disease. “Even in that
era before AIDS, one recognized this pattern of infections as the hallmark
of a cell-mediated immune defect,” says Dr. Waldmann. By applying
his years of research on immune function to this patient, he began to
define the T- and B-cell abnormalities that would prove to be consistent
features of AIDS.
Dr. Waldmann reflects on the AIDS epidemic with the insight of someone
who has spent 45 years at the NIH. He currently is chief of the metabolism
branch in NCI’s Division of Clinical Sciences.
|Thomas Waldmann, M.D.