Wolfram Sterry

Wolfram Sterry (1949-2020)

Our esteemed, admired and highly respected colleague, Prof. Dr. Wolfram Sterry, died on 19 September 2020 in Munich, Germany, after having fought a vicious disease for many years.

Similar to his countryman Friedrich Schiller, Wolfram was born in Marbach am Neckar, a small town in the South of Germany. After high school and a short detour to the field of English language and literature, he began to study medicine, received his MD degree in 1978, and then, under the guidance of Prof. Gerd Steigleder, completed a residency training in dermatovenerology at Cologne’s University. At this institution, he not only acquired a solid and profound knowledge of clinical and microscopic dermatology but also undertook his first walking steps in the world of science and research. Driven by his interest in the pathogenetic events operative in inflammatory and neoplastic skin diseases, Wolfram began to apply histochemical staining techniques and, later, dye-labeled monoclonal antibodies for the identification and characterization of different immunocytes and their subpopulations in cell suspensions and tissue sections.

The next station in his professional CV, the University of Kiel, Germany, was the ideal place to further pursue these studies. At the Department of Dermatology, Prof. Enno Christophers had established a center of excellence in psoriasis research and management, and the University’s Department of Pathology was second to none in the field of lymphomas on a global scale.
By making the optimal use of this remarkable scientific environment, Wolfram began to investigate the cellular and molecular features of cutaneous lymphomas which led to a new understanding of not only histogenesis, but also biologic behavior of the different forms of such neoplasms and, finally, resulted in the EORTC-WHO classification of cutaneous lymphomas.

Equally important was his work on the immunopathologic features of psoriasis where he and his co-workers were among the first to probe the capacity of different immunomodulating cytokines and cytokine antibodies to reduce disease activity. As a physician scientist in its true and best sense, he so pioneered translational medicine in dermatology long before this term became a household word.

Wolfram received broad and high recognition for this work within the national and international scientific community and it was not surprising that he was soon considered a top candidate for “higher honors”. And rightfully so: after having served as Department chair of dermatology in Ulm, Germany, for three years, he was appointed, in 1997, Professor and Chair of the Department of Dermatology at Berlin’ University Hospital, the world-famous Charité. This institution, with its glorious past, had suffered a painful decline during the times of fascism and, later, communism. In the period of only a few years, Wolfram achieved to re-position the Charité in the top League of Dermatology Departments worldwide. The secret behind this success was the combination of different talents that Wolfram possessed abundantly. These included outstanding and profound clinical skills, an investigative mind, and a goal-oriented outlook towards life guided by virtues that allowed him to clearly distinguish between truly and only seemingly important issues.

This description would be incomplete without mentioning his warm and friendly personality as well as his wonderful dry sense of humor that all helped him to build bridges and to bring people together.

And yes, he did: as Dean of the Medical Schools both in Ulm and Berlin; as President of the German Dermatological Society (DDG), of the European Society for Dermatological Research (ESDR), of the European Dermatology Forum (EDF) and, most prominently, the International League of Dermatological Societies (ILDS). In all these functions, he helped to define, to sharpen and, most importantly, to strengthen the profile of dermatovenerology within the union of medical specialities.Another initiative Wolfram, together with Walter Burgdorf, Eva Broecker and Peter Fritsch, will always be remembered for is the foundation of a new scientific journal, i.e. the Journal der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft (JDDG). Because of its bilingual character, this periodical has first helped to make scientific contributions written in German better known in the international scientific community, but now has reached such a good visibility that many dermatologists throughout the world use it to publish their research.

Wolfram Sterry has received many honors as a sign of his outstanding reputation. He was elected Member of the German National Academy of Sciences “Leopoldina”, the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, and honorary member of the ESDR as well as many national dermatological societies including those of Austria, Bulgaria, Israel, Italy, and the U.S.A.

Unforgotten also Wolfram as an academic teacher, delivering rhetoricallly brilliant lectures that always documented his enormous knowledge as well as his logical, analytical, comprehensive and interconnecting way of thinking.Those who haven’t known him personally should know that Wolfram, apart from being an excellent physician scientist, academic teacher and caring physician, possessed many other talents and virtues that made him a “Renaissance Man” par excellence. Having undergone a broad and profound education in the classical von Humboldt – tradition, he was a most knowledgeable and, thus, very challenging counterpart when discussing philosophy and religion, history and politics, arts and literature and, of course, sciences.

At other occasions, often at his beloved second home in Italy, Wolfram appeared as his own alter ego and impressed us as a gourmet cook, a master piano player with a repertoire ranging from Bach to pop, a fisherman in Alpine rivers, and last, but not least, a vivid and outgoing soccer fan, at least in front of the TV.

More than a decade ago, Wolfram was diagnosed with a serious illness to which he finally succumbed. Right from the beginning, he was firmly determined to fight this disease. He did this with unbelievable discipline and used expert medical advice from different sources to do this in the best way possible. Most important, though, was the constant love, support and closeness of his wonderful wife Gerda.

Wolfram: For all of us who knew you and had the privilege to share with you precious bits and pieces of your journey: you were a most remarkable man, a close and dear friend, a role model as a physician and as a human being.

Thank you.
Georg Stingl, Vienna