About R. Mark Buller

Solving Challenging Problems to Help Humankind

Obituary

Buller, Robert Mark Laidlaw 29 March 1949-24 February 2017. Mark Buller was born in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada to Robert Laidlaw Buller and his wife the former Muriel Elsie Fisher. Mark grew up in Victoria with his parents and sisters, Brenda Buller Focht and Deanne Buller. He attended Oak Bay High School before entering the University of Victoria. He graduated from the University of British Columbia, (Vancouver, B.C., Canada) (1971) with a Bachelor's degree and then attended the Institute of Virology, University­­ of Glasgow (Glasgow, Scotland) (1976) where he received his Doctorate. A post-doctoral position at the National Institute of Health (Bethesda, MD) followed. In 1982 he married Joslyn Nina Wilbur and raised two daughters Dawn and Meghan. He joined Saint Louis University in 1994 and rose to the rank of Professor. It was at Saint Louis University where Mark Buller made his greatest professional contributions in the fields of virology and immunology. His passions included hiking, cycling, the Lake Cowichan cabin and above all else his beloved wife and daughters. His commitments to others were expressed in many ways. Although Mark is no longer with us his spirit and memories live on with his family and friends. Mark will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved him.

 
 

Mark Buller (1949-2017)

Robert (Mark) Buller was struck by a car while riding his bicycle home on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, prematurely ending the life of a distinguished and well-liked poxvirologist.  Mark received his undergraduate education in British Columbia and a Ph.D. from the Institute of Virology in Glasgow.  He came to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in 1975 to study adenovirus associated virus replication with Jim Rose. Mark left NIAID in 1980 to become a Molecular Biology product manager for Bethesda Research Laboratories, a pioneer in providing restriction endonucleases for scientists. In 1982 Mark returned to NIAID to investigate an outbreak of ectromelia (mousepox), which was devastating the mouse colonies. His work led to improved diagnostics and a better understanding of the genetics of mouse susceptibility to infection. These studies carried out in the Laboratory of Viral Diseases launched Mark on to his enduring fascination with poxvirus pathogenesis. He was always eager to interact with others and viewed his laboratory as a hub for collaborations with pathologists, immunologists, molecular biologists and other poxvirologists. In 1994, Mark left NIAID for academia and an Associate Professor position at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, where he continued poxvirus research and rose to the rank of Professor in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, a position that he held until his unfortunate accident.

Mark’s scientific contributions, which were published in numerous journals including 22 in Virology, can be divided into three areas. In the first, Mark used ectromelia, cowpox, vaccinia and Molluscum contagiosum viruses to study aspects of poxvirus pathogenesis but his favorite was the mousepox model. He was interested in how poxvirus-encoded molecules modulated inflammation, immunity and disease outcome. Mark was generous and gave his postdoctoral fellows the freedom to collaborate with anyone they wanted, and this contributed to the quality and breadth of work undertaken in his lab.  Some select key findings during his tenure at the NIH are his demonstration that deletion of the thymidine kinase gene in vaccinia virus resulted in a highly-attenuated virus phenotype, CD4 T cell help was not required for induction of antiviral cytotoxic T cell responses, interferons (IFN) were crucial for recovery from poxvirus infections and, nitric oxide induced by IFN gamma, mediated antiviral activity in vitro and in vivo. Mark’s interest in basic research on the immune response to ectromelia virus did not diminish after he left the NIH.  He continued to collaborate with one of his NIH postdocs (GK) who had moved to Australia – their last publication was in 2015.

Mark’s expertise in animal studies with poxviruses led to an advisory role on bioterrorism for our government, following the 9/11 attacks and the mailing of anthrax spores.  There was great apprehension regarding the possible use of the smallpox virus or even more deadly versions as a bioweapon. One particular worry arose from studies showing enhanced virulence of a recombinant ectromelia virus that encoded a cytokine, which distorted the immune response of mice. Mark confirmed the result but further showed that the mice could respond to a combination of a drug and a vaccine. Monkeypox virus, which is closely related to the smallpox virus and causes a lethal disease of humans in Africa, is another concern. Mark established a colony of African dormice and developed a small animal model to study the virulence of monkeypox virus strains.

The third area of research, therapeutics and vaccines, was closely allied with his interest in poxvirus pathogenesis and the potential use of poxviruses for bioterrorism. Working with numerous collaborators in several institutions and industry, Mark used his expertise in animal models to help validate the efficacy of drugs including analogs of cidofovir and ST-246 and second generation smallpox vaccines, which helped support applications to the FDA for licensing.

            Soon after his arrival at Saint Louis University (SLU) Mark built a thriving lab with more than a dozen eager students, fellows and technicians.  His energy, enthusiasm, work ethic, and happy good cheer permeated the Department and the School.  He liked to arrive early and leave late.  He became a mentor and friend to everybody.  He was a rainmaker and connector, interested in the research of his colleagues, and he often would make suggestions to colleagues that changed the course of their research program.  He was a father figure who would help his colleagues in any way – inside the lab and outside the lab, perhaps helping to cut down a tree with his chainsaw, or providing advice on investments or how to raise children.  He was the ultimate team player, a tremendous faculty member who not only had an outstanding research program of his own, but helped and collaborated with countless others.  In 2007, a new building, the Doisy Research Center, was built on the campus of the SLU School of Medicine.  In large part because of Mark’s research and input, SLU received a multi-million-dollar facility grant from the NIH to construct the building.  Mark played a major role in the design and operation of two large state-of-the-art Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) laboratories and an animal BSL-3 laboratory.  These laboratories have enabled SLU faculty to conduct research on select agents and to recruit faculty working on these agents.  Because of Mark, the SLU School of Medicine is a very different and much better place than it might have been without him.

            Mark was an extremely fit and avid cyclist who rode his bike to lab nearly every day, almost without regard to weather.  Mark was also a man of great faith.  He worked to provide help for the poor, he volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, he donated to Wounded Warriors, and he sponsored impoverished children in other countries.  He was full of life, full of adventure, interested in everything, a great family man who loved his wife Joslyn and daughters Meghan and Dawn, and he lived his life to its fullest.  This passion and love will live on in the many lives that Mark touched at NIH, SLU and throughout the world.

 

Bernard Moss 

Laboratory of Viral Diseases, NIAID, NIH, Bethesda MD 20892, USA

 

Guna Karupiah

School of Medicine, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania 7000, Australia

 

William Wold

Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, St. Louis University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63104, USA