Bearn spent almost 30 years in academic medicine, studying metabolic diseases, and worked as a senior vice president at Merck & Co for nearly a decade. He served as a Trustee of HHMI for 18 years, from 1987 to 2005, providing wise counsel during a period of sustained growth and transformation for the Institute. In recent years, Bearn wrote biographies of three scientists: Archibald Garrod, Sir Clifford Allbutt, and Sir Francis Fraser.
Born in England, Bearn received his M.B., B.S., and M.D. degrees from the University of London. He came to The Rockefeller University in 1951 and in 1966 moved to The New York Hospital, where he served for 11 years as physician-in-chief and as chairman of the Department of Medicine for the Cornell University Medical College. He founded the first human genetics laboratory at the Medical College and, with colleagues at Rockefeller, initiated the joint M.D./Ph.D. program at the institutions.
During his research career, Bearn defined the genetic nature of Wilson’s disease, an inherited disorder that causes copper to accumulate in the liver and brain. He also demonstrated that the disease was associated with decreased function of a blood protein that binds copper.
In addition to serving as a Trustee of HHMI, Bearn was a Trustee of The Rockefeller University, the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation, and the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation. He was an overseer of The Jackson Laboratory.
Bearn was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the Harvey Society, and the American Society of Human Genetics. He was also a member of the American Philosophical Society and served as the organization’s vice president from 1988 to 1996 and then as executive officer from 1997 until his retirement in 2002.