Obituary: Korsmeyer, renowned cancer cell researcher, 54

Stanley J. Korsmeyer, M.D., a leader in cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and former director of the Division of Molecular Oncology at the School of Medicine, died Thursday, March 31, 2005, of a nonsmoking-related form of lung cancer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He was 54.

A renowned cancer cell researcher, Korsmeyer spent many of his productive years at Washington University, and his groundbreaking research on the survival of cancer cells has helped scientists devise new ways to treat cancer.

“He was truly a world-class cancer researcher and loved by all who knew him,” Timothy Ley, M.D., the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Professor in Medicine and professor of genetics, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “But in addition to all he accomplished scientifically at WashU, he also laid the critical groundwork for the creation of the Siteman Cancer Center in the early ’90s.”

His death was “incredibly ironic,” Ley said, “as he spent his life studying cancer and in the end, it took his life.”

Korsmeyer, who was also a professor of medicine, spent 12 years at the University before being recruited to Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 1998. In his last year here, Korsmeyer received one of four General Motors Cancer Foundation international awards.

For 19 years, Korsmeyer worked for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Dana-Farber.

In his time at Dana-Farber, Korsmeyer was the head of the program in molecular oncology within the Department of Cancer Immunology and AIDS. He was the Sidney Farber Professor of Pathology and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

He grew up on his family’s livestock farm in Beardstown, Ill., where he originally planned to become a veterinarian. He later chose premedical studies and graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1972. He then earned a medical degree from the university’s school of medicine in 1976.

He completed his internship and residency at the University of California Hospitals in San Francisco and completed a three-year research fellowship at the National Cancer Institute in 1982.

John F. DiPersio, M.D., Ph.D., the Lewis T. and Rosalind B. Apple Professor of Medicine and chief of the Division of Oncology at WUSTL, told the Post-Dispatch, “Many of us hoped and thought he would win the Nobel Prize for cancer cell research.

“I don’t think there will be anyone more missed in the scientific community than Stan Korsmeyer.”

He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Susan; two sons, Evan John and Jason Louis; his parents, Willard and Carnell Korsmeyer; three sisters, Lynn Hollahan, Janet Korsmeyer and Karen Ossing; and his grandfather, Carl Jolly.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Stanley J. Korsmeyer Memorial Fund at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 10 Brookline Place, Brookline, MA 02445.