Remembering Fernando Macian-Juan, M.D., Ph.D.
It was with tremendous sadness that Einstein learned of the passing of our beloved colleague and friend Fernando Macian-Juan, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pathology, member of the Einstein Institute for Aging Research and Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center, associate director of our Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), and a pioneering scientist in his fields of immunology, cancer, and aging research. Fernando, who was just 56, died Monday morning after valiantly battling a long illness.
Born in Valencia, Spain, Fernando received his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Valencia, where he and Ana Maria Cuervo met when they were 17 years old, during their first year of medical school. The couple, who later married, conducted research in collaborative laboratories led by a husband-and-wife team, foreshadowing their own aligned careers here at Einstein.
Coming to Einstein
After earning their M.D./Ph.D.s, Fernando and Ana Maria moved to Boston to complete their postdoctoral work. Fernando initially continued at Harvard Medical School, but then joined the Einstein faculty in 2003, two years after Ana Maria had done so; over 20 years at the College of Medicine he rose to the rank of tenured professor in the department of pathology, an honor he received in 2016.
“Fernando was a highly respected colleague and much loved by our students and postdocs, many of whom sought his mentorship,” noted Gordon F. Tomaselli, M.D., Einstein’s Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean and executive vice president and chief academic officer at Montefiore Medicine. “He was known for his warmth, collegiality, and commitment to training future physician-scientists and researchers and for his stellar work in the lab.”
Michael Prystowsky, M.D., Ph.D., professor and the Leopold G. Koss Chair of Pathology, agreed, noting “Fernando brought life, energy, and enthusiasm to the department. He was an imaginative and innovative scientist, a caring and nurturing mentor, and altruistic for all.” He added, “Fernando will be missed and, more importantly, remembered for how he touched all our lives.”
A noted immunology researcher, Fernando studied autophagy, a surveillance system that all cells rely on to find, digest, and recycle damaged molecules. He focused on the molecular mechanisms that regulate T-cell activation and their effect on the anti-tumor T cell response and autoimmunity. His group elucidated how age-related changes in autophagy contribute to the dysfunction of the immune system’s helper T cells—vital for activating both antibody-secreting B cells and cytotoxic T cells, which attack cells that pathogenic microbes have infected.
He received grant support from several institutes within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including NIAID, NIA, and NICHD, as well as from the Glenn Foundation, and other funding sources. His lab’s findings were widely published, and team members presented their research at conferences around the world.
A Masterful Mentor
In addition to his research, Fernando had a passion for mentoring and training the next generation of physician-scientists. He taught the Mechanisms of Disease course for nearly two decades and, for many years, served on the MSTP admissions committee. His ability to judge who was a fabulous applicant and enthusiastically recruit students to the program did not go unnoticed, observed Myles Akabas, M.D., Ph.D., director of the MSTP. He recalled: “The students would come to Friday lunch bubbling with enthusiasm about the exciting things that they had just learned in his course. Every year they would ask how he could talk so quickly as he lectured, but with such clarity.”
In 2022, just a month before he learned he was ill, Fernando was named associate director of the MSTP. “He was a superb scientist who focused on ensuring that his students received outstanding, rigorous training in a supportive, but challenging environment,” said Dr. Akabas. “He was a mensch whose moral compass guided his decisions and focused on ensuring that those decisions were good for all involved.”
Over the course of his career, Fernando was lauded for his excellence as a teacher and a mentor. In 2008, Einstein Ph.D. students selected him to receive the LaDonne H. Schulman Excellence in Teaching Award, given at commencement. He also was elected to Einstein’s Leo M. Davidoff Society, which recognizes faculty for their excellence in teaching medical students. Additionally, he received the Irene Diamond Professorship in Immunology and the Hirschl-Caulier Research Career Award.
Active in many societies, Fernando was elected member of the American Association of Immunologists, American Association of University Pathologists, the American Aging Association, and the American Society of Microbiology. He also served on the National Scientific Advisory Council of the American Federation for Aging Research
Fernando served on numerous study sections and review panels as well, including the European Research Council, Swiss National Science Foundation, and various NIH study sections. He also was a journal reviewer for dozens of peer-reviewed journals, including Aging Cell and Journal of Immunology.
Longtime colleague Louis M. Weiss, M.D., M.P.H., professor of pathology and of medicine, noted how Fernando brought passion to everything he did. “He was an outstanding scientist whose compassion and talent as a mentor was second to none. He was a quiet presence, but quite a presence, and his joie de vivre will be missed, as well his intellect.”
Fun Fernando Fact
What many may not know is that Fernando was a soccer fanatic and stayed loyal to his hometown Valencia team Levante UD even after moving to the United States nearly 30 years ago. Still, Ana Maria recalled that he would go out of his way to help colleagues, friends, and family, “even if you were rooting for his rival soccer teams in Spain.”
She added, “The void he has left is impossible to fill, but I have all the memories of the most wonderful life one could wish for, and he gave that to me.”
Maintaining a Quiet Presence
At Fernando’s request, there will be ‘no fuss’ associated with his passing. He wanted to go as he always lived, humble and unassuming, and did not want any ceremonies,” said Ana Maria. However, for those who wish to honor his memory, we invite you to leave your remembrances by completing this form.
Our Einstein family extends its heartfelt sympathies to Ana Maria, who is also our much beloved and esteemed colleague.
Posted on: Wednesday, May 24, 2023