Pioneering Immunologist Teruko Ishizaka Dies
Pioneering Immunologist Teruko Ishizaka DiesPioneering Immunologist Teruko Ishizaka Dies

Pioneering Immunologist Teruko Ishizaka Dies

With her husband, she studied allergic reactions and identified antibodies that set off itching, wheezing, and rashes.

Jun 14, 2019
Ashley Yeager

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Teruko Ishizaka, an immunologist who worked with her husband to study asthma, hay fever, and other allergies, died June 4, according to San Diego’s La Jolla Institute for Immunology. She was 92.

Together, Ishizaka and her late husband, Kimishige Ishizaka, discovered a new class of antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) that spur allergic reactions. The duo then discovered that the antibodies attach to white blood cells called mast cells, which then release histamine, a nitrogenous compound that causes the allergic reaction. The couple joined the institute La Jolla Institute for Immunology in 1989. 

“Terry, as we called her, not only distinguished herself scientifically but set a shining example in inspiring young scientists to work in a truly collaborative spirit,” Amnon Altman, who heads the institute’s cell biology department, says in a statement. “That talent, deeply rooted in the Japanese culture, continues to serve this institute well, more than 20 years later.”

Ishizaka was born in Yamagata, Japan, in 1926. She earned an MD at Tokyo Women’s Medical University and married Kimishige in 1949. Knowing she wanted to do research, she completed a PhD in medical science at University of Tokyo, graduating in 1957. She then did postdoctoral training at the California Institute of Technology from 1957 until 1959.

The Ishizakas joined Children’s Asthma Research Institute and Hospital (now National Jewish Health) in Denver in 1962. There, they studied serum from patients suffering from hay fever who were exposed to ragweed and used the data to identify and isolate IgE and decipher how it works. The discovery led to better ways of monitoring and treating allergic reactions.

In 1970, the Ishizakas moved to Johns Hopkins University, and then finally to La Jolla. “In a career span of 60 years, Ishizakas have a cumulative total of 119 publications,” the International Medical Journal reported in 2015, according to The New York Times. “This is quite a record, for a husband-wife team.”

Teruko retired in 1993, and her husband retired in 1996, and together they moved to Japan. Kimishige died in 2018. Teruko is survived by her son Yutaka.