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William Shearer, doctor to Bubble Boy, dead at 81

October 10, 2018

Dr. William Shearer, one of the physicians of Houston’s famed Bubble Boy, died Tuesday. He was 81.

Shearer was a doctor and researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital for 40 years, mostly as chief of allergy and immunology. He studied and treated immunodeficiency diseases, including bone marrow and cord blood stem cell transplants for severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), the condition where patients lack the white blood cells that fight infection.

He was also a leading figure in pediatric HIV/AIDS research and served as director of Baylor’s AIDS Center.

“No one worked harder or was more dedicated to his patients and trainees than Bill,” Dr. Mark Kline, physician-in-chief of Texas Children’s, wrote in an email to employees Tuesday announcing the death. “I learned an enormous amount from him during the formative stages of my career development … and I will miss him tremendously.”

RELATED: The ‘boy in the bubble who captivated the world’

Shearer was best known in the 1980s as the doctor who treated David Vetter, the SCID patient who died at 12 after a life spent in a series of sterile plastic bubbles secluded from all germs and human touch. It was one of Houston’s signature stories, captivating people around the world.

In recent years, Shearer talked about Vetter’s contribution to science, noting that he provided one of the first proofs viruses can cause cancer and that his DNA helped identify the gene that causes immune deficiencies, leading to a test for his condition in newborns. In 2009, Shearer told the Chronicle that “more than any scientist, David taught us by his life.”

todd.ackerman@chron.com

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