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U of M mourns the death of cancer research pioneer, John Kersey, M.D.

The Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota lost one of its most prominent and influential scientists and physicians with the sudden death of John Kersey, M.D., at the age of 74.

A native Minnesotan and a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Minnesota Medical School, Kersey dedicated his life to the development of new treatments for childhood cancer.  He was the founder of the University’s Blood and Marrow Transplant program, serving as director from 1974 to 1995.  He was also the founding director of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, which became a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center in 1998.

“John was the driving force that helped the University of Minnesota become internationally recognized for excellence in cancer treatment and research,” said Aaron Friedman, M.D., dean of the Medical School and the University’s vice president of health sciences. “His enthusiasm for his work was contagious, and his passion for bringing people together to solve problems changed the way cancer research is conducted.”

Kersey’s work was directly aimed at improving outcomes for cancer patients, and the results of his work impacted countless lives.  In 1975, he led the team that completed the world’s first successful bone marrow transplant for malignant lymphoma.  That patient is alive and well today, and bone marrow transplantation has become the standard of care for many types of blood cancers and other illnesses.

“The work that we do at the Masonic Cancer Center is a direct result of the leadership of John Kersey,” said Douglas Yee, M.D., director of the Masonic Cancer Center.  “The world has been positively changed by John’s scientific, educational and clinical contributions.  In addition, John provided mentorship and guidance to researchers around the world who will now carry on his legacy.”

Kersey was President of the International Society for Experimental Hematology and the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation. He held continuous funding from the NIH from 1977 through 2010, and was the recipient of an Outstanding Investigator Award from the NCI from 1991 through 2001. His colleagues say his generosity as a friend and collaborator set him apart.

“John Kersey was a wonderful friend, mentor and colleague to many in the University of Minnesota Medical School and far beyond,” said Wes Miller, M.D., head of Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School. “Throughout his career, John was driven by an insatiable curiosity.  He asked questions and found answers that amazed me.  He will be sorely missed but remembered with fondness, admiration and gratitude.”

“John never lost his passion for advancing science and improving care for patients,” said Tucker LeBien, PhD, Associate Vice President for Research, University of Minnesota Academic Health Center. “He was generous with his time and expertise.  He provided sage advice in a manner that was always kind, always enthusiastic, and always focused on the great possibilities research can bring to patients and families facing cancer.”

John is survived by his wife, Anne, three children and four grandchildren.  A Memorial Service will be held on Thursday, March 21 at McNamara Center beginning at 6:30 p.m.

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