Retired derm researcher savors sweet wine of life

April 1, 2006

Retired dermatologist and researcher Henry Earl Jones, M.D., has aninquisitive nature that led to a better understanding of theimmunology of fungal infection and an arsenal of badly needed drugsfor difficult-to-treat patients. His curiosity expands beyond themedical, however, and his questioning about why Californians werenot able to successfully grow Spanish grapes for wine led to hissecond career (after 35 years as a dermatologist), as owner of athriving U.S. winery.

After 12 years, Dr. Jones and wife, Hilda, have planted their 60-acre Abacela Vineyards and Winery in Oregon's Umpqua Valley, to produce award-winning wines with their flagship grape, the Spanish Tempranillo. So intriguing is their story that Money magazine featured the couple in its November 2005 issue about dream retirements.

Researcher from the start

"I always knew that I wanted to do research," Dr. Jones says. "In fact, when I went into medicine, my intent was not to become a practicing physician, but rather to do research on human diseases."

While taking biology classes at Murray State University, with plans to get a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Jones says it was one of his professors who changed his direction.

"This professor said, 'If you are so interested in research, why don't you go to medical school? Medical subjects are just as challenging as any area of biochemistry or cell biology. And having an M.D. degree, rather than a Ph.D., gives you great flexibility,'" according to Dr. Jones.

Impact on medicine

The research for which Dr. Jones is best known encompasses studies on the immunology of fungal infection.

"We were able to gain considerable understanding of the host-parasite relationship and the pathophysiology of infection, including what causes the skin lesion to appear," Dr. Jones says. "First, the skin becomes colonized by the organism. But when it is first colonized, unless the host had been previously infected, there was no visible or symptomatic lesion. It is the host's response to the organism that creates the clinical signs and symptoms that we recognize as an infection."

Dr. Jones and colleagues learned in the 1970s that what produces the visible clinical lesion is an immune response process - a primary immune response of the human to antigenic material in the infectious organism. The inflammatory response, which is immune-mediated by T-cells, produces a relative immunity to repeated infection.

On the flip side, however, is the patient who fails to mount a successful immune response - a patient destined to develop a more extensive and chronic infection.

"Another very important part of our research was focused on these people with defective immune defenses who suffered from chronic fungal infections of the skin," Dr. Jones says.

Dr. Jones' aim became to develop more effective medicines for fungal infection patients with defective immune responses.

Dr. Jones was involved in the development of three drugs: ketoconazole, itraconazole and terbinafine. Fluconazole also emerged at that time.

"I was the first in America to study ketoconazole in the laboratory, in animals and in man. And the same can be said about itraconazole," he says.

Grape fascination

While traveling abroad as a professor and researcher, Dr. Jones acquired a great interest in wines.