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Distinguished health researcher, hospital executive John Bienenstock remembered

Distinguished health researcher, hospital executive John Bienenstock remembered

Tributes are pouring in at news of the death of John Bienenstock, known internationally as a visionary physician, scientist, academic and a leader at McMaster University. He died July 25 at age 85.

The professor of pathology officially retired in 1998, but he remained active in his research and as director of the McMaster Brain Body Institute at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton until his death.

During his tenure at McMaster, he became renowned worldwide as a pioneer in mucosal immunology — introducing the concept of a common mucosal immune system. He also advanced the knowledge of neuroimmunology and in understanding how the brain and nervous system collaborate. He published more than 500 peer-reviewed articles and authored, edited or co-edited 10 books including a standard textbook on mucosal immunology and allergy.

He was chair of the Department of Pathology from 1978 to 1989, and dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster from 1989 to 1997. He was known for establishing a substantial research infrastructure at the Faculty.

His accomplishments were recognized. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1992; a McMaster Distinguished University Professor in 1999; a member of the Order of Canada in 2002 and was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2011. He became a member of the Faculty of Health Sciences Community of Distinction in 2014. He also received an honorary MD from Goteborg, Sweden.

He was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1936, obtained his medical degree at King’s College London and Westminster Hospital Medical School, U.K. in 1960, and did a postdoctoral term at Harvard University before joining McMaster University’s medical school start-up in 1968. The first class began in 1969.

Bienenstock was also a mentor and friend to many graduate students and fellow researchers, supervising more than 60 post doctoral fellows and 10 doctoral students.

He leaves his family: his wife Dody; their children, the late Jimson (Johanna), Adam (Jill), and Robin; their grandchildren, Bella, Elsa, Sam, Leo, Sebastiano and Oliva and his sister Tsultrim Zangmo (Veronica).

Typical of the tributes, is this one from Dr. Kevin Smith, former CEO of St. Joseph’s Healthcare and current President & CEO, University Health Network “John was the single most important mentor in my career and unquestionably the most creative person —a true renaissance man — I have ever had the privilege of working with. He took great joy in the success of others and made hard work fun. He became a dear and beloved friend who I will forever treasure and miss.”

“Dr. John Bienenstock has had an immense impact on the Faculty since he started here 54 years ago. He was a visionary as a scientist, as an administrator and as an academic, inspiring generations of scientists and clinicians to think outside of the box. He was a friend and mentor to so many of us, and his legacy of innovation will continue,” Paul O’Byrne, Distinguished University Professor, Medicine, and Dean and Vice-President, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University.

“John Bienenstock was a remarkably creative individual, a revolutionary thinker and a pioneer in the study of mucosal Immunology.  John’s impact on our community has been deep and far-reaching.  As holder of the John Bienenstock Chair in Molecular Medicine, I am continually inspired by John’s legacy of scientific excellence and impact,” Jonathan Bramson, Professor, Medicine and Vice-Dean, Research, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University

The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame’s 2011 tribute to John Bienenstock is here.

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