Born in Elkins, West Virginia, Allen attended Davis and Elkins College, where his father was president. Allen then received his bachelor's degree in 1934 from Washington University in St. Louis and his medical degree in 1938 from Harvard University.
It was soon after he completed his residency at the University of Chicago Clinics in 1944 that Allen was selected as one of the few staff physicians on the super-secret Manhattan Project, the World War II U.S. government project to build an atomic bomb. When physicist Louis Slotin died of radiation exposure nine days after a lab accident at Los Alamos in May of 1946, Allen often wrote op-ed articles for major newspapers telling people what it's like to witness someone slowly and painfully dying from radiation exposure. At the height of the controversy surrounding the neutron bomb -- an atomic bomb that would kill people, but leave buildings and machinery intact -- in the early 1980s, Allen wrote of Slotin's death. He concluded one op-ed piece, published in the LOS ANGELES TIMES on November 11, 1981, by noting: "There is no effective medical treatment for serious radiation injury, and these deaths will be almost as agonizing to those looking on as to the victims themselves." "The production of neutron weapons is probably as immoral a concept as human minds have yet devised," he stated.
After the Manhattan Project, Allen returned to the University of Chicago in 1946 as chief resident and instructor of surgery. He became a full professor of surgery in 1951. In 1959 Allen left the University of Chicago for the Stanford School of Medicine to chair the department of surgery. He was a professor at Stanford until his retirement in 1977.
During his long career, Allen conducted research on radiation injury, hemorrhagic diseases, post-transfusion hepatitis, the nutritional value of intravenous plasma, and AIDS. He called public attention to potential risks of infection from commercial blood supplies and stimulated the creation of an all-volunteer national blood bank program and legislation requiring the labeling of volunteer and purchased blood. Allen was the first to observe that the serum hepatitis virus in plasma could be inactivated by storing it at room temperature for six months.
From 1955-59, he served as a member of the Surgery Study Section of the U.S. Public Health Service. Other boards he served on included the American Board of Surgery, American College of Surgeons, and Society of Clinical Surgery. He was a founding member of both the International Surgical Group (1958) and Surgical Infection Society (1980). He also chaired the American Cancer Society's Committee on Cancer Therapy, American College of Surgeons' Committee on Blood and Allied Problems, and was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
A prolific writer, Allen was senior author of the popular textbook SURGERY: PRINCIPALS AND PRACTICE and wrote more than 100 scientific monographs and papers. He was chief editor of the ARCHIVES OF SURGERY from 1962-70 and served on the editorial board of SURGERY, the JOURNAL OF SURGICAL RESEARCH, and TRANSFUSION.
He received numerous scientific awards, including an American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics award for work on irradiation injury, a Gold Medal Award from the American Medical Association's Scientific Divisions for research on protamine sulfate, and awards from the American Association of Blood Banks.
Photo: Courtesy of Stanford University Medical Center.