The passing away of Dr Robert W Grady was a painful blow to his many friends and associates who had the privilege of maintaining close personal and working relations with him over the years.
I first met Bob at the Arden House meeting on Proteins of Iron Metabolism organized by Phil Eisen, Elmer Brown, Bob Crichton and Jack Fieding in April 1977. At that time Bob already had a record of pioneering the development of new iron chelators with Anthony Cerami exploring not only their ability to remove excess iron from the body but also to examine their effect on the immune system and their potential antimicrobial use. Because I have specialized in exploring the mechanism of interaction of iron chelators with distinct iron pools in vivo, we immediately identified common grounds for collaboration to study potentially useful new iron chelators including dihydrobenzoic acid, rhodotorulic acid, EHPG and HDED. By 1978 we have published our paper on the alternative pathways of in vivo iron chelation. Subsequently, our active collaboration has spanned over the next 20 years and our friendship up to the last days.
Bob was a leader in iron research. Following his initial very productive years with Anthony Cerami at Rockefeller University, he joined the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he established a unit specializing in long term metabolic iron balance studies to provide accurate and very reliable data on the effect of iron chelators on transfusional iron overload in thalassemia major and other clinical conditions. To our knowledge this metabolic unit is the only existing one able to provide critical information to establish rational iron chelating programs for many thousands of patients treated for transfusional iron overload. The most important message from these studies was the finding that combined use of iron chelators such as deferoxamine and deferiprone, or deferoxamine and deferasirox results not only in an additive but in many cases a synergistic effect on iron excretion and, in all cases a negative long term iron balance. The proposed mechanism of the synergistic effect of iron chelators is iron shuttle whereby the first chelator enters the intracellular compartment and delivers the chelated iron to a more powerful extracellular chelator.
Bob was a wonderful human being and a scholar in the true sense of the word. He took great care in establishing reliable and accurate methodology. This allowed him confidence in his findings and conclusions even if these conflicted with current dogmas. He was uncompromising in defending his views. On the other hand, he was modest, friendly, and always prepared to help both with advice and the provision of research tools and materials . His devotion and love to his family was legendary. In recent years our contact was mainly by exchanging news on iron chelation therapy at the yearly ASH meetings. Others had ideas and opinions but Bob knew the facts. His findings and predictions had a major effect on global chelation policies and his wisdom, experience, honesty, and warm humanity will be greatly missed.
Chaim Hershko MD
Professor Emeritus, Department of Medicine
Shaare Zedek Medical Center
and Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School
I and many members of my laboratory will sorely miss Robert. Robert was an inspiration to us all. I still remember my first day of work when I approached him and started asking questions about iron overload and thalassemia. He was always available with a smile on his face, even when he had to answer my naïve questions or explain to me an unfamiliar concept. I was always running to him when I had to start a new experiment or get some feedback about a new grant. As the lab acquired new members who were interested on iron metabolism, I saw the same pattern: young people running to Dr. Grady and discuss their results or asking for advice. He would have done anything to help.
With Robert we published some seminal papers on iron metabolism and hepcidin in beta-thalassemia. I remember when I ran by him the idea to overexpress hepcidin in thalassemia. He was not convinced at the beginning, but our conversation led him to support my idea and help me tremendously to frame the experiments using the right controls and reagents. This was one of the many papers co-authored by Robert. He not only performed many of the iron analyses that he loved to do in his laboratory, but also provided a tremendous intellectual feedback on every aspect of the studies.
As our friendship progressed, I started discussing with Robert many different subjects, from family events to political news. He always had a suggestion or an opinion. Although we sometimes had different views, he always listened carefully and gracefully, providing his opinion on the subject we were discussing. Eventually Robert also met my wife and my other family members. When Robert’s wife passed away, we adopted two wonderful cats she bred. He would be happy to know that one of the two is still with us and she constantly reminds us how graciously Dr. Grady lived his life and interacted with his colleagues and friends.
Stefano Rivella, Ph.D.
Kwame Ohene-Frempong Chair on Sickle Cell Anemia
Professor of Pediatrics
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHoP)
University of Pennsylvania