Obituary: Lacy, 81; groundbreaking diabetes researcher

Paul E. Lacy, M.D., Ph.D., professor emeritus of pathology and former chairman of the Department of Pathology and Immunology, died of chronic lung disease Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2005, in Zanesville, Ohio. He was 81.

Lacy, who was well-known for his groundbreaking diabetes research, was among the first scientists to determine the precise details of how structures in the pancreas known as the islets of Langerhans produce insulin.

Paul Lacy
Paul Lacy

In type 1 diabetics, these structures stop working, making it necessary for patients to inject insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.

Lacy helped identify the key component of the islets that produces insulin, a type of cell known as a beta cell, and pioneered techniques to isolate and purify those cells.

The research was preparation for what Lacy envisioned as a new and more effective way of treating type 1 diabetics: transplanting healthy insulin-producing cells into patients.

In 1972, Lacy conducted the first successful transplant of islet cells in rats, curing them of diabetes. Lacy and others began transplants in humans in the 1980s.

However, his ultimate goal — permanently freeing diabetics from the need to inject insulin — is rarely achieved. Research continues today.

An international congress on islet transplantation, called the Paul E. Lacy Memorial Congress, will be held in May in Geneva.

“Since the days of the Nobel laureates Carl and Gerty Cori, the School of Medicine has been known internationally as a center of excellence in diabetes research, and Paul contributed significantly to this reputation,” said David M. Kipnis, M.D., the Distinguished University Professor of Medicine and of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology.

Lacy earned a medical degree in 1948 from Ohio State University and a doctoral degree in pathology from the University of Minnesota in 1955.

He joined the Department of Anatomy at Washington University in 1955. He was named the Edward Mallinckrodt Professor and chair of the Department of Pathology in 1961 — a post he held for 23 years.

He also served as pathologist in chief at Barnes, Allied and St. Louis Children’s hospitals.

Lacy retired in 1984 but continued to actively contribute to islet cell transplantation research.

Other career highlights included his participation in the creation of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and his induction into the National Academy of Sciences.

Lacy had an affinity for space travel, and he served on the scientific advisory board of NASA and the International Space Station Committee.

“For someone who had done so many important things, Paul was always such a nice and very approachable guy,” said Marc R. Hammerman, M.D., the Chromalloy Professor of Renal Diseases in Medicine. “After he left, I would send him reprints of my research, and he was always very supportive.”

The Paul E. Lacy Lecture, an annual event established by the Department of Pathology in 1987, will take place on April 11.

Lacy is survived by his second wife, Bonnie Mattingly Lacy; sons Paul Lacy Jr. and Steven Lacy, M.D.; four stepchildren; and 10 grandchildren.

His first wife, Ellen Lacy, died in 1998.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Re-search Foundation, 13482 Northwood Blvd., Columbus, OH 43235.