As one of the first scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Allan Granoff, PhD, helped set the trajectory for excellence—a pioneer who believed laboratory scientists should work in tandem with clinicians to find cures for the catastrophic diseases of childhood. From the battlefields of Europe to the halls of St. Jude, he pursued excellence despite often overwhelming odds.
Known at St. Jude as “the Chief,” Granoff shaped the Department of Virology and Molecular Biology into a globally recognized center of virus research.
Establishing a virology laboratory at St. Jude between 1962 and 1975 was a major challenge. Recruiting scientists to Memphis was tough, but Donald Pinkel, MD, the first director of St. Jude, and Granoff were a perfect pair. Pinkel was stubborn and refused to take no for an answer; Granoff was a super salesman who had been trained in sales before attending the university. Granoff successfully built a world-class Department of Virology.
Of the five basic science departments started at St. Jude in 1962, Virology was the only one that survived after five years. Those that did not survive were later reinstated as the institution grew: the immunology laboratories initially became part of Virology, but later separated with recruitment of Frank Adler, PhD, and later Peter Doherty, PhD, who went on to win the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Rolf M. Zinkernagel, MD, PhD, of the University of Zurich.
Not only did the Department of Virology survive, it thrived. The research projects in his department were fully funded, principally the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
When Joseph Simone, MD, stepped down as director in 1992, Granoff agreed to serve as interim director while a permanent replacement was recruited. Granoff served until 1993, when the Board of Governors appointed Arthur Nienhuis, MD, as the hospital’s fourth director.
Granoff’s lasting contributions and excellent instincts helped the institution combine basic science and clinical science, in pursuit of Danny Thomas’ dream that “No child should die in the dawn of life.”