Dr. Kligman, Dermatology

Dr. Albert M. Kligman, a renowned professor of dermatology at the School of Medicine, died February 9, 2010, at age 93 at Pennsylvania Hospital of a heart attack.

Colleagues note that, “His zest permeated everything he did and affected everyone he knew, making him seem ‘larger than life’ to family, friends, colleagues, and patients.” In addition, his “exuberant personality and lust for life inspired everyone with whom he was involved. His professional achievements and contributions to enhancing the lives of others will long be remembered.”

The son of poor East European Jewish immigrants, he grew up in Philadelphia and, with assistance from Rabbi Simon Greenberg, went to college at Pennsylvania State University for his BS; there, he also captained the gymnastics team. He next earned a doctorate in botany at Penn, where he specialized in mycology and wrote a definitive book on mushrooms—Handbook of Mushroom Culture—derived from his research in the mushroom houses at Kennett Square. His first wife, Dr. Beatrice Troyan, encouraged him to become a physician as well. He trained at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where his interest in mycology led him to pursue a residency and distinguished career in dermatology.

Dr. Kligman is responsible for an array of major advances in dermatology. While he is best known for the invention of topical tretinoin (Retin-A) for acne and photodamaged skin, that contribution competes with many others such as: the PAS stain for visualizing fungi in tissue; his description of the human hair cycle, telogen effluvium (for which he also coined the term), and hot comb alopecia; his studies on the pathogenesis of acne vulgaris (eg, comedogenic properties of sebum); the maximization test for identifying new contact allergens; and the coining of the terms “photoaging” and “cosmeceuticals.” While he was conducting research on the prevention of the poison ivy rash, Life magazine portrayed him as the “Poison Ivy Picker of Pennypack Park.” Later, in France, he was named the “Pope of Dermatology.” Many of his observations debunked popular myths, such as “chocolate causes acne.” His research findings resulted in the publication of several fundamental texts—Dermatology, by Donald Pillsbury, Walter Shelley, and Albert Kligman, and Acne: Morphogenesis and Treatment and Acne and Rosacea, both by Gerd Plewig and Albert Kligman—and more than a thousand articles in major dermatologic journals. These contributions alone would mark him as a giant in the field. As such, he also experienced his fair share of controversy.

Dr. Kligman’s vision for the future of dermatology extended well beyond scientific and clinical work. As an innovative, captivating teacher, he inspired generations of researchers and clinicians. Many young researchers from around the world came to train with him and went on to become prominent figures in the field themselves.

Dr. Kligman served dermatology in many other capacities. A member of the Board of Directors of the Society for Investigative Dermatology from 1957 to 1962, he was its vice president in 1963 and its president in 1978. In 1976 he received the Stephen Rothman Memorial Award, the Society’s highest honor. Over the years, he was awarded numerous honorary degrees here and abroad, notably a doctor honoris causa from the University of Utrecht, Netherlands, and from the Heinrich-Heine-University in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Dr. Kligman lived by a philosophy that compelled him to give back. With his wife Lorraine, a PhD in developmental biology and research professor of dermatology at Penn’s School of Medicine, Dr. Kligman made many philanthropic gifts to help assure the future of education. These included major donations to institutions that gave him a chance in life: contributions to the College of Health and Human Development at Pennsylvania State University and scholarships for nursing candidates at its Mont Alto campus. In 1996, he created the Albert M. Kligman Travel Fellowships that have allowed more than 250 young dermatologists and scientists to attend the Society for Investigative Dermatology’s annual meetings. At the University of Pennsylvania, the Kligmans have endowed the Albert M. Kligman Professorship, the Albert M. Kligman Dermatology Fund to support education and research, the Sandra Lazarus Professorship to support a bright young clinician, and an annual tuition fund for four Penn medical students.

Dr. Kligman is survived by his first wife, Beatrice; and three children, Gail, Douglas, and Michael; and by Lorraine, his wife of 37 years; and two stepsons, Robert and Keith. His second wife, the artist Mitzi Melnicoff, died tragically soon after their marriage. In addition, he is survived by six grandchildren, Hannah, Ben, Ian, Annika, Justin, and Matthew; and his sister, Miriam Rubin.