Obituary: Greg Sibbel, graduate student, 26


Greg Sibbel, a third-year graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis, died Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, from Ewing’s sarcoma. He had turned 26 the day before.

Sibbel, of Vail, Iowa, was a student in the developmental biology program in the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences (DBBS).

He is being remembered by faculty and students as a passionate scientist and outstanding individual.

Upon his diagnosis of Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that forms in bone or soft tissue, Sibbel started blogging to document his journey. He and his physician, Brian Van Tine, MD, PhD, a sarcoma specialist at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, shared Sibbel’s story with Piers Morgan on CNN.

“Greg was a remarkably humble young man with unlimited potential,” Van Tine said. “He was very public about his journey, in large part to draw attention to adult patients with pediatric cancers. Greg made a lasting impression and hopefully his message will help those who come after him.”

Jason Mills, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and principal investigator of the lab where Sibbel worked, said he feels fortunate to have known him.

“Greg was a cheerful, curious and efficient scientist who made it obvious that he felt that investigating the origins of disease was a remarkable privilege,” Mills said. “After his diagnosis, despite tremendous pain in his limbs and gnawing uncertainty about his future, he was even more efficient. No obstacles to our pursuit of discovery seem insurmountable after having seen Greg cheerfully at his bench every day, despite the burdens he was shouldering.”

In October, Sibbel had his first paper published in Cell. The study showed that the stomach naturally produces more stem cells than previously realized, likely for repair of injuries from infections, digestive fluids and the foods we eat.

Away from his work, Sibbel was an avid athlete who loved rock climbing, biking and hunting. He also enjoyed cooking and visiting local breweries.

“His love of knowledge and curiosity about the world was infectious and spread to all those who knew him,” said Anna Boudoures, a fellow DBBS graduate student and Sibbel’s girlfriend. “His calm attitude and silent strength helped all those around him cope with the tragedy and severity of his condition.”

Sibbel is survived by his parents, Ron and Renee Sibbel; and his sisters, Amy Sibbel, Tracy Swalwell and Lori Christ.

Funeral services were in Vail, Iowa.

The U.S. and WUSTL flags will be lowered to half-staff Friday, Dec. 6, through Monday, Dec. 9, in honor and memory of Sibbel and Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013.