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April 3, 2007, Volume 53, No. 28

Dr. Robert Austrian, Leader in the Fight Against Pneumococcal Diseases

Robert Austrian

Dr. Robert Austrian, John Herr Musser Emeritus Professor of Research Medicine in the School of Medicine and a leading figure in the prevention of pneumococcal diseases, died on March 25 at age 90.

For more than five decades, beginning in the late 1940s, Dr. Austrian devoted his professional life to conquering pneumococcal pneumonia, a major killer of the elderly and chronically ill. With the discovery of penicillin in the 1940s, many thought that fatalities from pneumococcal pneumonia would become a problem of the past. Working with great mastery as a clinician, epidemiologist, and microbiologist, Dr. Austrian proved that bacteremic pneumococcal pneumonia remained a killer even in the age of antibiotics. Although more than 90 strains of pneumococci have been discovered, Dr. Austrian identified those pneumococcal types that most frequently caused disease. He used this information to develop a vaccine to protect against the disease, and he personally supervised clinical trials to prove the vaccine’s efficacy.

In 1962, Dr. Austrian left the State University of New York College of Medicine at Brooklyn to join the medical faculty at Penn, where he served as the John Herr Musser Professor of Research Medicine and chair of the department. He continued his clinical and epidemiological work by developing a vaccine under the aegis of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and by conducting clinical trials among gold miners in South Africa. In 1976, he reported that the vaccine was both safe and efficacious. His scientific efforts culminated in 1977 with the licensing of a vaccine containing antigens of 14 serotypes of pneumococcus and in 1983 with expansion of the vaccine to contain 23 serotypes that accounted for 85 percent of blood stream infections associated with pneumococcal pneumonia.

Despite skepticism in the medical community about the vaccine’s efficacy in the United States, a carefully performed case-control study in the November 21, 1991 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Austrian and others conclusively established the protective efficacy of the pneumococcal vaccine.

In recent years, Dr. Austrian has remained an inspiration to his colleagues and students. He was an active participant in the weekly clinical Infectious Diseases Case Management conferences held at HUP. He spent six days a week, working in his laboratory, where he personally analyzed pneumococcal isolates received from colleagues around the world to track the epidemiology of infection, which was an important assessment for determining the pneumococcal types to include in future generations of the vaccine. 

Dr. Austrian was born in Baltimore on April 12, 1916. He earned both his A.B. and M.D. degrees from Johns Hopkins University in 1937 and 1941, respectively.

Among Dr. Austrian’s many awards and honors are the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in 1978; election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1979; the Bristol Award from the Infectious Diseases Society of America in 1986; election to senior membership of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, in 1992; and The Maxwell Finland Award for Scientific Achievement from the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases in 2001. Dr. Austrian received an honorary degree from Penn in 1987, a year after he became emeritus, and the auditorium in Penn’s Clinical Research Building was named in his honor.

Dr. Austrian is survived by his two stepdaughters, Toni Amber and Jill Bernstein; and his sister, Janet Fisher.

A memorial service will be held at Penn, details of time and place to be announced. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Robert Austrian Fellowship Fund, 502 Johnson Pavilion, Infectious Disease Division, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia PA 19104-6073.

Mr. Keller, GSE

George C. Keller, former chairman of the higher education division at the Graduate School of Education, died on February 28 at age 78.

Before coming to Penn in 1988, Mr. Keller served as a strategic planner for the Barton-Gillet Co., as assistant to the chancellor of the University of Maryland system and of the State University of New York system, as assistant dean of the college at Columbia University and editor of Columbia College Today, and as academic director for the Great Books Foundation in Chicago.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Mr. Keller with the U.S. Steel Foundation Award for distinguished service to higher education. Newsweek magazine recognized him for excellence in education reporting in 1967, and the next year, Atlantic Monthly named him education writer of the year.

After retiring from Penn in 1994, Mr. Keller worked as a writer and educational consultant to institutions and governments throughout the nation, and authored more than 100 articles and reviews. He was the author of Academic Strategy: The Management Revolution in Higher Education and Transforming a College, both published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, and Prologue to Prominence, published by Lutheran University Press. His last book, Colleges, Universities, and the New Society, will be published next year by Hopkins Press.

Born in Union City, N.J., the son of immigrants from Germany and Latvia, Mr. Keller earned a bachelor’s degree in government and political science from Columbia University in 1951. He earned a master’s degree in political science in 1954, also from Columbia.

He is survived by his wife, Jane; his son, the Rev. Bayard Faithfull; daughter, Coby Keller; and two grandsons.


Dr. Mossman, Slavic Languages and Literatures

Elliott Mossman

Dr. Elliott Dunbar Mossman, associate professor emeritus of Slavic languages and literatures, died March 16 from cancer; he was 64.

Dr. Mossman’s career at Penn spanned nearly four decades, beginning in 1968 when he joined the department of Slavic languages and literatures. Other positions he held included chair of his department, associate dean for undergraduate studies in SAS and director of the Center for Soviet and East European Studies. In addition to his teaching and administrative positions, Dr. Mossman was a member of the Faculty Senate Committee on Administration and the University Council Academic Review Committee. He retired in 2006.

Dr. Mossman was educated at Wesleyan University and received his doctorate in Russian literature from Princeton University and his law degree from Penn. He was a well-known specialist in Russian literature with specific interest in the life and works of Boris Pasternak; Dr. Mossman compiled, edited and translated The Correspondence of Boris Pasternak and Olga Freidenberg, 1910-1954. He was former editor of the scholarly journal Slavic Review.

Dr. Mossman is survived by his daughter, Ellen; sister, Marion; and brothers, Donald, Dwight and Garrett.


To Report A Death

Almanac appreciates being informed of the deaths of current and former faculty and staff members, students, and other members of the University community.

However, notices of alumni deaths should be directed to the Alumni Records Office at Room 545, Franklin Building, (215) 898-8136 or e-mail record@ben.dev.upenn.edu.

Almanac - April 3, 2007, Volume 53, No. 28