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Robert Anderson Aldrich

Born  1917

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American paediatrician, born 1917.

Biography of Robert Anderson Aldrich

Robert Anderson Aldrich was the son of another distinguished American paediatrician, Charles Anderson Aldrich (1888-1949), professor of paediatrics at the Mayo Clinic and eponymously remembered for Aldrich’s test, an intradermal salt solution test.

Aldrich was educated at Amhurst College, Massachusetts and at the Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago. After graduating MD from the latter university in 1944, he spent the next two years serving with the US Navy as a medical officer in the South Pacific.

After military service Aldrich trained in paediatrics at the University of Minnesota before he came to the Mayo Clinic in 1950 as a member of the consultant staff. The next year he obtained an appointment to the University of Oregon, and in 1956 became full professor of paediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle.

From 1962 Aldrich, on an invitation from President John F. Kennedy, formed a new National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health, Washington, DC. He later founded a Division of Human Ecology at his own university, and in 1980 returned to the University of Washington.

"human development is peace. The question about whether we are capable of human development in the fullest sense remain unanswered".

Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome
Aldrich gave this account of the way in which the syndrome bearing his name was delineated:

"The circumstances that led to describing the genetics of the Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome are of clinical interest. I was at the time a full-time member of the Mayo Clinic consultant staff. In this role in the Section of Pediatrics, each of us took a turn at attending on the inpatient service at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota. I was on that service when the little boy who was the index case was admitted in serious condition, as described in our published article. The clinical picture was one that I had never seen or read about in the pediatric literature. Neither had any other members of our full-time staff. Puzzled and looking for etiologic clues that might come from the child's environment or the history of the family, I invited the mother to sit down with me once more and go into more detail about the clinical course and possible cause of the serious illness. When she arrived, her mother accompanied her for the first time. After at least an hour of questioning about the environment that failed to add any leads, I began asking about relatives who might have had a similar illness. It was then that the child's grandmother exclaimed sadly, 'just like all the rest of them'. This leads to a search for each male death in the family and to establish the sex-linked nature of the syndrome. We were able to trace the female carrier, who came from the Netherlands to live in Iowa. This fascinating step was made possible through the co-operation of pediatricians in the area of the Netherlands from which she came. It is important to mention that we did not publish for more than a year after the research study was completed. I could not believe that this patient had not been described. The literature (English and foreign) was fine combed by the Mayo Clinic staff without finding any reference to a syndrome resembling this one. Finally, together with my colleagues, Arthur Steinberg and Donald Campbell, an account was published in Pediatrics using the title Pedigree demonstrating a sex-linked recessive condition characterized by draining ears, eczematoid dermatitis and bloody diarrhea. It was several months later that a prominent German pediatrician wrote, directing my attention to a short abstract in a journal by Wiskott (1937) describing the clinical picture precisely in 3 brothers. Our contribution, of course, is the study of the genetic inheritance. That's the brief story. It illustrates the importance of a complete history."

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