American Society of Hematology

John H. Kersey, MD (1938-2013)

Tucker W. LeBien, PhD
Bruce R. Blazar, MD
Daniel J. Weisdorf, MD
Gregory M. Vercellotti, MD
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN

Published on: July 01, 2013

University of Minnesota

John H. Kersey, a pioneer in bone marrow transplantation and studies of childhood leukemia, died suddenly in March at the age of 74. John obtained his MD from the University of Minnesota where he was a lifetime faculty member. He had several legendary mentors, including Robert Good, Carlos Martinez, Bill Krivit, and Mark Nesbit. John dedicated his professional career to the integration of laboratory research with bedside care, always remembering that patients should be the beneficiaries of research.

John had an infectious enthusiasm for the translation of preclinical science to the bedside. He was an inspiration for two generations of hematologists/oncologists and transplant physician-scientists, at Minnesota and elsewhere, who embraced his mission and now continue his legacy. His published work encompassed studies of bone marrow engraftment and graft-versus-host disease, as well as the immunophenotypic and molecular characterization of pediatric hematologic malignancies. He pioneered the first successful allotransplants for lymphoma, developed the important clinical model of prospectively analyzing transplant efficacy by comparing outcomes in patients undergoing high-dose chemotherapy followed by stem cell rescue with those who were transplant-eligible but lacked a donor, and authored a landmark report comparing the results of autologous-purged marrow grafts with sibling donor allografts for acute lymphocytic leukemia.

In addition to serving as councillor on the Executive Committee of ASH and as associate editor for Blood (1988-1992), John was elected president of the International Society for Experimental Hematology and the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation. He also served on the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Board of Scientific Counselors and was chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Children’s Oncology Group. Recognizing the need for organized multidisciplinary cancer research and care, he was the founding director of the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center, which became an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1998. He was the recipient of NIH funding continuously from 1977 to the present during which time he received an Outstanding Investigator Award from the NCI.

With his engaging persona, John led colleagues and trainees on a quest for discovery that spanned five decades. Through it all, his investigation was guided by thoughts of patients whose diseases were incompletely understood and whose care was imperfect.

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