Remembering Dr. Irving M. London, Founding Director of the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program
It is with sorrow that we announce the death of Irving M. London, M.D., founding director of the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program. Dr. London’s life and accomplishments were recently celebrated on the occasion of his approaching 100th birthday by the HST community. We are very grateful that we were able to honor him so recently and well; Dr. London expressed great pleasure in the festivities.
Irving M. London was born in Malden, Massachusetts on July 24, 1918. He graduated from Harvard College with a Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude, in 1939; he simultaneously earned a second bachelor’s degree from the Hebrew College in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Dr. London weighed attending law school versus medical school after graduation, eventually accepting the offer to Harvard Medical School. His tenure at HMS instilled in him a love of research that spanned the rest of his career.
Dr. London accepted an internship at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York after graduation. His training was interrupted by World War II, where he served as a captain in the Medical Corps. He was part of a research effort that showed the efficacy of chloroquine as an anti-malarial drug. At the end of his military service, he was assigned to Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific to serve as the physician for the Congressional delegation to the atom bomb tests.
Dr. London returned to New York to resume his residency after the war. After residency he took up a research fellowship in the department of biochemistry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He soon joined the faculty and embarked on a rich research, teaching and clinical tenure at Columbia. In 1954, Dr. London became the founding chair of the department of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. He served as professor and chair of the department, and directed medical services at the Bronx Municipal Hospital Center, until 1970.
In 1968 Dr. London was invited to serve as a consultant to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School to assist in the planning of a new program joining the two institutions. He then devoted a sabbatical year to carrying out the initial program development, including garnering the support of the faculties of both MIT and HMS. In 1970, he accepted the directorship of this new entity, the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology. HST represents Dr. London’s commitment to the integration of medical education and university education, and integration of interdisciplinary biomedical research, education and medical practice. Dr. London, who was professor of medicine at HMS and professor of biology at MIT, served as the director of HST until 1985.
Dr. London has received numerous awards and honors over the years for his groundbreaking work explaining the molecular regulation of hemoglobin synthesis at the level of gene transcription and translation into protein. The honors include: the Welch Fellowship in Internal Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences from 1949-1952, the Theobald Smith Award in Medical Sciences of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1953, the Commonwealth Fund Fellowship at Institut Pasteur from 1962-1963, election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1963, charter membership in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1970, and elected membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 1971. From 1982-2003, he served first on the board of directors and then on the Biosciences Advisory Committee of the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson.
Looking back over his career, Dr. London derived great satisfaction from having played a key role in the founding of three institutions known for their contributions to medical research, practice and education – Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and, of course, HST. His passion for HST never abated. He continued to teach and co-directed the HST.140, Molecular Medicine course, which he developed with Dr. Paul Gallop in 1979, as late as the fall of 2017. Dr. London was present for most of HST’s major events, including the HST Forum, HST Dinner Seminars and HST Graduation. There he shared his intellect, wit and warmth with the students, faculty, alumni and staff of HST.
Dr. London was preceded in death by his wife Huguette. He leaves his sons Robb and David, and Robb’s children Jacob and Danielle.
Dr. London was looking forward to HST’s 50th anniversary in 2020. His pioneering work in creating a unique physician/scientist/engineer training program is his enduring legacy, and positions HST well for the next 50 years.