Remembering Dr. Brian Sorrentino

Phil Doerfler, Ph.D. - December 12, 2018

Gene therapy pioneer Brian Sorrentino, M.D., passed away in November. Thanks to Brian’s efforts, patients with X-SCID who received gene therapy are returning home and leading healthy lives. He will be missed and remembered fondly.

<p><em>Portrait courtesy of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.</em></p>

It is with great sadness I write to remember a pioneering member of our society. Brian Sorrentino, M.D., passed away in November following his second battle with cancer. Brian was a childhood cancer survivor himself and dedicated his life to offering hope for children with catastrophic disease. He was an exceptional physician-scientist and I have had the good fortune to be a part of the Division of Experimental Hematology, of which Brian was the director since 2001. It is he and my mentor Mitch Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., who made it possible for me to be a postdoc at St. Jude Children’s Research hospital, a position I currently hold, and I cannot help but feel tremendous gratitude.

Brian was a native of New York. He received his medical education at State University of New York at Syracuse, completed an internal medicine residency at the University of North Carolina, followed by training at the National Institutes of Health in hematology/oncology before joining the faculty of St. Jude in 1993. For decades, Brian worked to identify genes which would allow researchers to identify stem cells and to effectively transduce hematopoietic stem cells with lentiviral vectors to treat primary immunodeficiencies.

Through his basic research efforts, he was able to translate his discoveries to clinical application. Brian adamantly pursued gene therapies for X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency (X-SCID). In the past, X-SCID meant early mortality within the first 1-2 years of life. But with Brian and his team’s efforts, the latest lentiviral-based gene therapy for X-SCID has the capability to transform the lives of patients with this and other life-threatening diseases affecting the hematopoietic system. To see how gene and cell therapy is changing the lives of X-SCID patients, I encourage you to view Brian’s presentation at least years’ ASGCT Annual Meeting.

Known the world over, Brian served on the Advisory Council for ASGCT and chaired NIH study sections in the area of hematology. With his tremendous success, he achieved many awards and was recognized for significant contributions to the field. He was a member of American Society of Clinical Investigation and from the International Society of Experimental Hematology he received the McCulloch and Till Lectureship Award. He served on the editorial boards of many journals and held several patents on his work, many of which have been licensed in an effort to continue the success of X-SCID gene therapy beyond clinical trials. Brian was also honored by Inside Memphis Business with the 2017 Innovation Award.

More than anything else, Brian was a friend and mentor to those with whom he interacted. He was passionate about basic and applied research, fostering the growth of trainees whether or not they were part of his lab, and a generous and kind individual. Although he is gone, thanks to Brian’s efforts, patients with X-SCID who received gene therapy are returning home and leading healthy lives. Although his passing is strongly felt at St. Jude, his legacy continues through his colleagues and patients. He will be missed and remembered fondly.

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