Obituary: John Turk, endowed professor of endocrinology, 73

John Turk, MD, PhD, a pioneer in mass spectrometry research and a deeply respected faculty member for more than 40 years at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died May 26, 2021, in Eureka, Mo., after a brief illness. He was 73.

John Turk

The Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Professor of Endocrinology, Turk was a pioneer in lipid biochemistry, defining key mechanisms of phospholipid signaling that contribute to diabetes. His work first drew international attention when he used tandem mass spectrometry to determine the molecular structures of complex lipids such as phosphatidylcholines, one of the fundamental lipid building blocks of cells.

Also a professor of pathology and immunology, Turk was among the discoverers of a phospholipase enzyme, iPLA2b, that participates in the control of insulin secretion and the survival of pancreatic beta cells. He and his collaborators demonstrated that this enzyme also is involved in cell proliferation, cell death, membrane biochemistry, and a wide range of conditions including infertility, metabolic syndrome, chronic inflammation, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinsonism. His work has been held in such high regard by the metabolic disease community that he twice received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) MERIT Award, a prestigious honor designed to provide stable, long-term funding to exceptional, experienced investigators.

“John Turk was a distinguished faculty member for more than 40 years at the School of Medicine,” said Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor of Medicine and head of the Department of Medicine. “He had tremendous expertise in mass spectrometry and was a well-funded, well-respected investigator and lab director for many years. He also was a compassionate clinician and educator. He cared deeply about this university, and he represented it so very well.”

He is survived by his beloved companion, Carol Thompson; ex-wife, Alice Turk; daughter, Amy Turk (Justin Prien); son, Andrew Turk; brother, Jim Turk; and three grandchildren.

Visitation will be 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 3, at Bopp Chapel, 10610 Manchester Road, Kirkwood, Mo. Funeral services will be at Bopp Chapel at 11 a.m. Friday, June 4.

Read the full obituary on the School of Medicine site.

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