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Originally published Friday, December 18, 2009 at 7:44 PM

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Obituary: Dr. Josiah Wedgwood, pediatrician, NIH researcher

Dr. Josiah Francis Wedgwood, a researcher and pediatrician whose work helped improve immunity in premature babies and brought funding and notice to autoimmune disease research, died last month in Paris. He was 59.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Dr. Josiah Francis Wedgwood, a researcher and pediatrician whose work helped improve immunity in premature babies and brought funding and notice to autoimmune disease research, died last month in Paris. He was 59.

A graduate of Lakeside School in Seattle, Dr. Wedgwood was the son of prominent University of Washington pediatrician, professor and immunology researcher Dr. Ralph Wedgwood.

Dr. Wedgwood was born in Boston and lived in Cleveland before moving with his family to Seattle's Laurelhurst neighborhood at age 13.

He was the seventh Josiah Wedgwood, a direct descendant of the Wedgwood pottery founder in England.

"Josiah was brilliant. He was truly a genius," said his brother, Dr. Jeffrey Wedgwood, of Issaquah. Jeffrey Wedgwood said his brother skipped the seventh grade.

At Harvard, Dr. Wedgwood struggled to choose between a career as a researcher or doctor.

In the end, he chose both, earning a doctorate in biochemistry at Harvard and a medical degree at George Washington University.

"I think a lot of people, including him, found career lab work a little lonely," said his wife, Ruth Wedgwood. "He liked people as much as test tubes."

Dr. Wedgwood trained at what is now Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, and took a job as a neonatologist at Long Island Jewish Hospital. He was board certified in pediatrics, pediatric immunology and infectious diseases, neonatology and perinatology.

Most recently, he worked at the National Institutes of Health outside of Washington, D.C., where he conducted research into diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

In that position, he made sure immunodeficiency disease research "had a primary place in the research agenda," said Vicki Modell, co-founder of the Jeffrey Modell Foundation, which works to support such research.

"Without him, I'm not sure what would have happened to all of us," said Modell, whose own son died of an immunodeficiency disease in 1986. "He was very, very instrumental, and helpful, and generous with both his intellect as well as his funding abilities."

Among his most important work in neonatology was research about which cells were missing in premature babies that made them susceptible to infections. That work led to development of cell types to help babies fight infections, said Dr. Kurt Hirschhorn, who worked with Dr. Wedgwood at the Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Dr. Wedgwood is known nationally and internationally for his work. His colleagues described him as bright, diplomatic, gentle and empathetic.

"Because he understood the problem of the patients, he could relate to them beyond the genetic basis of these diseases or the medical aspect. He was really quite in tune with their day-to-day problems," said Dr. Hans Ochs, a professor of pediatrics and chair of pediatric immunology research at the UW Seattle Children's Research Institute.

Dr. Wedgwood died unexpectedly Nov. 27 while in Paris to meet his family for Thanksgiving. The cause of death has not been determined.

Besides his wife and 11-year-old son, Josiah, Dr. Wedgwood is survived by his father, Dr. Ralph Wedgwood and his mother, Virginia Wedgwood, of Seattle; and younger brothers John Wedgwood, of Seattle, and Jeffrey Wedgwood, of Issaquah. He was preceded in death by another brother, James Wedgwood.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or

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