Richard Hudson Quarles, an internationally renowned neuroscientist, who retired in 2007 after 39 years at the National Institutes of Health, died Aug. 9 at a nursing home in Sandy Spring, Maryland. The cause of death was complications due to a bacterial infection. Survivors include his wife Mary, two daughters, Heather and Cynthia, and a son, Geoff, and three beloved stepchildren, Dana, Daryl and Denise in addition to his beloved beagle Maggie.
Dick, as he was known to all his colleagues and friends, was born Sept 23, 1939 in Towson Maryland. Following high school graduation he attended Swarthmore College, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry and acquired a life-long interest in research. Dick always spoke warmly of his undergraduate years. He not only excelled academically but in addition was a gifted varsity player on the lacrosse and soccer teams. He obtained his doctorate in Biochemistry from Harvard (1966), conducting his research at the McLean Hospital where he had the distinction of being the last graduate student of Jordi Folch-Pi, a towering figure in the early days of lipid neurochemistry, who was as flamboyant as Dick was reserved. Following his PhD work, Dick traveled to England where he joined the lab of the eminent lipid biochemist Rex Dawson at the Agricultural Research Center, Babraham, Cambridge. During his time in England, he worked largely on the phospholipid biochemistry of plants, a far cry from the neurological research to which he would shortly devote his entire career. After a successful stay in the UK (5 articles published in 1968-9), he returned to Maryland, and joined the group of Roscoe Brady at the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke. At the NIH, he began his research on the biochemistry of glycoconjugates in the nervous system with the publication of his first paper “Synthesis of glycoproteins and gangliosides in developing rat brain” published in the Journal of Neurochemistry in 1970 and presented at the first annual meeting of the American Society for Neurochemistry (ASN) in Albuquerque New Mexico. Dick was a loyal and active member of the ASN throughout his career and was quietly proud of his unbroken streak of annual meeting attendance from this first meeting through his eventual retirement in 2007. He became a staff member at NIH in 1968 and began research on the major focus of his career, the proteins associated with myelin that are glycosylated. He was the first to identify a glycoprotein known as P0 as the major protein of peripheral myelin. In addition he was the discoverer of the myelin-associated glycoprotein (termed MAG) in both CNS and PNS; he subsequently published close to 80 papers on MAG. His laboratory produced the first antisera to MAG which led to very productive immunocytochemical and anatomical collaborations with his NIH colleagues Nancy Sternberger, Bruce Trapp and Harry Webster. These investigations identified the location of MAG and its potential role in both normal development and in neurological disease processes. Detailed analysis of these two roles of MAG largely occupied the remaining three decades of his career. Of particular significance, was his observation showing that IgM paraproteins that react with MAG also react with acidic glycolipids of nerve, hence establishing immunological cross-reactivity by molecular mimicry between a myelin glycoprotein and carbohydrate determinants conserved during evolution. He also reported that glycolipid antigens appear to be quite common among the IgM paraproteinemic neuropathies, showing a unique leadership in the uncharted territory of IgM immune response to glycosylation. His laboratory also provided evidence that MAG may also be involved in the biochemical pathogenesis of Multiple Sclerosis since MAG is reduced more than other myelin proteins at the edges of some developing plaques in normal appearing white matter. Dick retired from the NIH in 2007 having risen through the ranks from a Senior Staff Fellow in 1968, to becoming chief of the Myelin and Brain Development Section of the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke in 1977, and chief of the Institute’s Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology in 1991. He held both positions until his retirement in 2007. He published 173 journal articles and served on the editorial boards of three peer reviewed journals and multiple advisory committees and NIH study sections. In 1984 he received the Public Health Service Special Recognition Award and in 1994, an NIH Director’s Award. His lab hosted many visiting postdoctoral fellows from around the world and they left his lab to launch their own very successful research careers. He was a patient mentor, extremely smart and thoughtful, but unintimidating, and with an encyclopedic knowledge of brain biochemistry. Dick had an unrelenting desire to get it right. He stressed that the obligation of every scientist was to prove their theories wrong. He often reminded his postdoctoral fellows that designing the next experiment was more important than rationalizing the data from previous experiments. Dick stressed that the final judge of science is time and we witness today that his approach to science has withstood the scrutiny of time. Following his retirement, he enjoyed a quiet life with his wife Mary in suburban Maryland, and spent time with his children, and grandchildren. With his increased spare time, he was able to watch more sports. In a book chapter he prepared shortly before he passed away, he wrote “My most enjoyable diversions from the academic rigors of research involved playing lacrosse and soccer in my youth, which gave way to tennis and softball in midlife, and being an appreciative spectator and fan of all sports throughout my life”. For anyone who knew him, this was Dick. Anyone who spent time in his lab would inevitably go on a field trip to Memorial Stadium, and later Camden Yards, to watch his beloved Orioles. And he never really got over the moonlight departure of his Baltimore Colts in 1984. Dick Quarles was a quiet, humble and decent man, who will be greatly missed by his family and colleagues. Condolences may be left at http://richard-hudson-quarles.forevermissed.com/ and contributions in Dick’s memory made be made to his favorite charity, the Special Olympics.