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Ernst Herman Beutner

Published June 20, 2013

Ernst Herman Beutner, professor emeritus of microbiology and dermatology who took part in groundbreaking research on autoimmune diseases of the skin, died June 10 in his Amherst home after a short illness. He was 89.

Born in Berlin, Germany, the son of a chemist and a pharmacologist, Beutner came to the U.S. with his parents as an infant. He enrolled in Pennsylvania State University, but was drafted into the Army after a year and served as an interpreter for German prisoners of war.

After the war, he returned to Penn State and developed an interest in bacteriology. After completing his doctorate in 1951 at the University of Pennsylvania, he took positions with Sias Labs in Brookline, Mass., and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. He joined the UB faculty in 1956.

Working in the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology under renowned immunologist Ernest Witebsky—the first director of what is now the Witebsky Center for Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences—he specialized in the use of immunofluorescence (IF) for studies of autoimmune diseases in animals and humans.

Beutner and his colleagues led eight international conferences on the standardization of IF, which resulted in mandated proficiency tests for antinuclear antibodies across the U.S.

In 1965, he and his associates discovered the role of autoimmunity in pemphigus and pemphigold, two skin diseases with high mortality rates.

This work led to a 25-year collaboration with Polish researchers Tadeusz Chorzelski and Stephanie Jablonska that resulted in 125 publications on autoimmune diseases of the skin and other connective tissues, including studies on celiac disease, psoriasis and dermatitis herpetiformis, a chronic blistering skin condition.

He founded Beutner Labs in 1992 and served as director until retiring last year. The lab specializes in studies of blistering diseases, lupus and psoriasiform eruptions, and provides the only nationwide proficiency tests for pemphigus and pemphigold.

Beutner was the recipient of numerous honors, awards and fellowships from schools and medical societies around the world.