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Remembering Dr. Michael Frank

Friday, August 2, 2019
Michael M. Frank, MD

Michael Frank, MD, passed away with his family at his side on Thursday, August 1, 2019.

Dr. Frank was the Samuel L. Katz Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics in the Duke University School of Medicine, professor of immunology and medicine, and an internationally respected physician-scientist. He served as the chair of the Department of Pediatrics from 1990 to 2004. Throughout his long career, he made an important mark on the specialty of allergy and immunology and as an esteemed mentor to many in the field.

Dr. Frank was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He developed an early interest in science and knew he wanted to be a medical researcher before the age of ten. He credits reading Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kraif as a young boy as having inspired an early fascination with the immune system.

Entering the University of Wisconsin at age 15, Dr. Frank developed an interest in infectious diseases through microbial biologist, and subsequent Nobel Prize winner, Joshua Lederberg. He then went on to attend Harvard Medical School and was a house officer in medicine at Harvard and in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Medical School. He eventually assumed positions of increasing responsibility in the Laboratory of Clinical Investigation at the NIH from 1966 to 1990. While there, he focused most of his research efforts on the role of complement in the immune response to infectious diseases and published widely prior to coming to Duke. Elected to membership to many prestigious organizations and societies, including the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), he was also the recipient of numerous awards, including the European Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing his discovery of the cause and treatment of hereditary angioedema, a rare, autosomal dominantly inherited blood disorder.

Dr. Frank was recruited to Duke from his position as the clinical director at NIAID in 1990 to succeed Dr. Samuel L. Katz as the fourth chair of the Department of Pediatrics. Upon arriving at Duke, Dr. Frank encountered numerous financial and personnel challenges, the most pressing of which was a limitation in departmental space to accommodate what he perceived as the need to expand the breadth and depth of clinical expertise. When he arrived, the department had 63 faculty, and during his tenure as chair, he succeeded in expanding the faculty to 125 in addition to leading the construction of the new McGovern-Davison Children’s Health Center to accommodate the outpatient activities of the of the department. In 2004, he stepped down as chair and returned to basic and medical research.

Notably, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) Foundation recently honored his life’s work with the creation of the Michael M. Frank, MD FAAAAI Lectureship.

Services for Dr. Michael Frank will be held Sunday, August 4, 2019 at 11:00 am at Beth El Synagogue, 1004 Watts Street, Durham, NC 27701, followed by burial at the Durham Hebrew Cemetery. There will be a memorial immediately afterwards in the Auditorium at the Forest at Duke, 2701 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.  

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in Dr. Michael Frank’s name to Duke Children’s or the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.