Dr Frederick Wolfe, 1936-2023

3 minute read

Australian and international rheumos pay tribute to the ‘major force in global rheumatology and in the field of fibromyalgia’.

The global rheumatology community is mourning the passing of US rheumatology professor Dr Frederick Wolfe.

A pioneer in the field of fibromyalgia, Dr Wolfe was instrumental in getting the condition formally recognised. He was also known for his huge contribution to rheumatology research more generally, particularly database research.

“Not only did Fred add to our knowledge in rheumatology enormously with his huge research contribution and the establishment of the National Databank for Rheumatic Diseases in Wichita, his impact on the field of fibromyalgia has been incredible,” said Melbourne rheumatologist Dr Emma Guymer.

“He was part of a group of rheumatologists instrumental in clearly defining fibromyalgia since the 1980s and was lead author of the publication initial ACR fibromyalgia classification criteria in 1990, and their revisions in 2010/11 and in 2016,” said Dr Guymer, who has a special interest in fibromyalgia.

“I feel Fred’s greatest contribution to our understanding of fibromyalgia lies in his promotion of the concept of a scale of ‘fibromyalgianess’ – that people with fibromyalgia can exist on a continuous scale of central sensitivity severity, rather than a dichotomous state of having fibromyalgia or not.”

Born in New York on 1 July 1936, he graduated from Queens College NY and obtained a degree in medicine in 1966 from The State University of New York. After serving in the air force, he founded the Wichita Arthritis Center in 1974, and in 1979 became a clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Kansas.

He had a long career in rheumatology clinical research, founding of the Arthritis Research Center Foundation and the National Databank for Rheumatic Diseases, which is the largest patient-reported research databank for rheumatic disorders in the US.

He was the lead or co-author on hundreds of peer-reviewed research papers, with more than 125,000 citations, and continued his research into fibromyalgia until his death on 5 September 2023.

He had three children and five grandchildren and was a keen cyclist, with other passions including amateur radio, cooking and gardening.

“Fred was a major force in global rheumatology and in the field of fibromyalgia. He was tough, relentless and not afraid to wade into an argument,” said Dr Guymer.

“He also appreciated hard work and thoughtful approaches, and had a softer side, especially when discussing his family or pets.

“His dedication to furthering our understanding of fibromyalgia and promoting its important place in rheumatology was inspirational.”

Gary Macfarlane, University of Aberdeen professor of RMD epidemiology was among those to honour Dr Wolfe’s contribution to the field of fibromyalgia.

“One of the greats in fibromyalgia research, Fred Wolfe undertook pioneering research in the condition, increasing our understanding of aetiology and leading the development of several criteria sets,” he tweeted.

Dr Leonard Calabrese and Dr Kaleb Michaud were also among the many inspired by Dr Wolfe.

“Fred was the first national figure I invited/ hosted as a young faculty and he was both kind and inspiring. We remained lifelong friends. His energy, creativity and insights should inspire us all,” tweeted Dr Calabrese.

“My first rheumatologist, my first non-food service boss, mentor, colleague, friend and most influential and inspiring one for my research career,” tweeted Dr Michaud, co-director of FORWARD – The National Databank for Rheumatic Diseases alongside Dr Wolfe.

“Thank you for so much, Dr Wolfe.”

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