Scientist, dermatologist and teacher, Allan Lorincz, MD, 1924-2010

Scientist, dermatologist and teacher, Allan Lorincz, MD, 1924-2010

September 15, 2010

A pioneer in the emerging field of investigative dermatology and a walking encyclopedia of the diseases of the skin, Allan L. Lorincz, MD, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Chicago, died at the Midwest Palliative & Hospice Care Center in Skokie, IL, on September 7, 2010, after a long struggle with Parkinson disease. He was 85 years old.

Lorincz was an early advocate for placing greater emphasis on dermatology in medical education, applying the tools of basic biological science to problems involving the skin, and using the skin as a model for basic biological research. Working with his mentor at the University of Chicago, dermatology chief Stephen Rothman, MD, Lorincz co-authored several pioneering studies that crossed the boundaries between dermatology and other disciplines, such as immunology, virology and biochemistry.

As a clinical scientist, he became a powerful advocate for what he considered a neglected specialty. Skin disorders accounted for up to 15 percent of medical practice, he emphasized in a 1961 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Plus, 13.8 percent of questions to the journal had "dermatological implications." Yet medical schools "so neglect cutaneous medical teaching that their graduates are prepared with little more than common lay misconceptions about the skin."

"Dr. Lorincz epitomized the consummate clinician-academician of the old school: dedicated healer, profound scholar, and cherished master to countless students, residents, and fellows," said Christopher R. Shea, MD, professor of medicine and section chief of dermatology at the University of Chicago. "He was fascinated by every aspect of dermatology, not just diseases of the skin but also the effects of disease in other organ systems on the skin."

"He had seen everything twice," added Shea. "For any physician with a dermatology question, he was the guy to go to."

"Allan Lorincz was bright and industrious as a researcher, a superb and knowledgeable physician, and a gracious and personable colleague," recalled Frederick D. Malkinson, MD, DMD, Chairman Emeritus, Department of Dermatology, Rush University Medical Center, who had worked with Lorincz as a resident in the 1950s and later joined the faculty for 15 years.

"He was absolutely brilliant, but despite his infinite knowledge he always assumed that you were just as smart as he was," said one of his former residents, Shelley Halper, MD, now president of the Chicago Dermatological Society. "He had ideas that were years beyond what was technically possible. The residents used to joke that someone should follow him around and record his offhand comments, then write them up as papers."

Born on Halloween Day, October, 31, 1924, in Chicago, Allan Levente Lorincz received all his higher education and spent his entire career at the University of Chicago. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a student at the College and received his bachelor of science degree in 1945. He was elected to the medical honor society, Alpha Omega Alpha, and received his medical degree, with honors in surgery, in 1947. He completed his medical internship at the University's Billings Hospital in 1948, followed by a dermatology residency from 1948 to 1951 and a research fellowship at the University in 1952.

He joined the faculty of the University of Chicago as an assistant professor of medicine (dermatology) in 1952 and maintained this appointment while fulfilling military service as Chief of the Department of Dermatology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, DC, from 1954 to 1956.

Throughout the 1950s he published a series of fundamental studies on a wide range of skin disorders, applying the new tools of modern biology to a wide range of topics. "Lorincz is a brilliant man," noted Rothman, his section chief and frequent collaborator at the time. He praised Lorincz's ability "to see old problems which have come to a dead end suddenly in an entirely new light with new possibilities of experimental approach. Similarly, he picks up new problems with an uncanny vision."

With such glowing assessments, Lorincz steadily advanced through the academic ranks. He was promoted to associate professor in 1957 and to professor in 1967. He succeeded Rothman as chief of the section of dermatology in 1960 and kept the role for 31 years, until 1991. This promotion brought administrative demands that cut into his time for research, but he remained productive, publishing more than 150 research papers and review articles in leading journals, including Science, Nature, and JAMA.

He also took on leadership roles in local and national professional societies, serving as president of the Chicago Mycological Society, the Illinois State Dermatological Society, and the Chicago Dermatological Society, which gave him their first Gold Medal Award and endowed a lectureship in his name. He was on the board of directors and a vice president of the Society for Investigative Dermatology. He served on the editorial board of various medical journals and was editor of Current Concepts in Skin Disease and associate editor of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

His work as a researcher, doctor and teacher brought accolades, including honorary memberships in the dermatological societies of Denmark, Japan, Poland, South Korea and Venezuela. The University of Chicago Medical and Biological Sciences Alumni Association presented him with its Gold Key Award in 1997 and Distinguished Service Award in 2007.

Despite his intense focus on medicine, he was known by friends and colleagues as a family man. "He worked six days a week, but he devoted any free time to us," said his daughter, Alice Dale, who recalls dinner conversations that were delightfully unpredictable and imaginative, even touching on such topics as leprosy. "He taught us how to collaborate with others," she said, "and how to fish."

He married Lillian Tatter whom he met at a Hungarian Baptist church, in 1952. They had three children--Donald, Linda (Shelton) and Alice--and remained together until Lillian's death in 1996. They are also survived by three grandchildren, and his two brothers: Drs. Albert and Andrew Lorincz, both alumni of the University of Chicago School of Medicine.

There will be a private service for the family on Thursday, September 16. A larger memorial service is being planned for Wednesday, October 27, at Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations go to one of the following: Friends of Dermatology, University of Chicago, ATTN: Keyoumars Soltani, 5841 South Maryland Ave., MC 5067, Chicago, IL 60637; the American Parkinson Disease Association, 135 Parkinson Avenue, Staten Island, NY 10305, 1 (800) 223-2732,; or Midwest Palliative & Hospice Care Center, Knox Building, 3rd floor, Skokie Hospital, 9701 Knox Avenue, Skokie, IL 60076.