The Hematologist

January-February 2011, Volume 8, Issue 1

Alan Gewirtz - A Zest for Life (1949-2010)

Charles S. Abrams, MD Professor of Medicine, Pathology, and Laboratory Medicine; Director,
PENN-CHOP Blood Center for Patient Care and Discovery, Philadelphia, PA

Published on: January 31, 2011

On November 17, 2010, we lost one of our most distinguished and beloved colleagues, Dr. Alan M. Gewirtz. Alan dedicated his career to the development of novel therapeutics for the treatment of leukemia. He was the C. Willard Robinson Professor in Medicine and Pathology at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and headed the Hematologic Malignancy Program at the Abramson Cancer Center. It was during his hematology fellowship at Yale when Alan developed a love affair with hematopoiesis that never ended. Alan was an early advocate of the use of interfering RNA oligonucleotides in leukemia, and he was a pioneer in the field of therapeutic gene targeting. He was a faculty member at Temple University before moving to Penn, where Alan spent the last two decades. Alan was a leader in the field of stem cell biology and engineered therapeutics. Not only did Alan have an impact on the world of science, but he also had an impact on all of those whom he taught. He was a tireless advocate for basic science research and for promoting the careers of young scientists.

Alan’s noteworthy scientific contributions were published in the most esteemed journals and were recognized by the American Society of Hematology, Doris Duke Foundation, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, American Society for Clinical Investigation, and the Association of American Physicians. He also served on the editorial boards of such publications as Experimental Hematology and the Journal of Clinical Investigation. Alan was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and a recipient of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award, and he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin, Poland. He was also the holder of nine patents.

Alan’s reach was both worldwide and universal, and he showed grace and ease both on the ground and aloft. He was not only a passionate pilot, but he was even funded by NASA to study hematopoiesis in outer space. Alan’s dedication, commitment, and contributions to ASH were boundless and remarkable. Alan was the editor of the ASH Education Book since 2007 and continued working on the 2010 book right up to the time of his passing. He was also scientific co-chair for two annual meetings, and he served with distinction on numerous ASH committees.

However, more important than Alan’s outstanding career and his scientific contributions, is the way in which he led his life. He had that perfect and enviable balance, which allowed him to excel without taking himself or life too seriously. He would not hesitate to debate with you, while Sparky, his dog, dutifully remained by his side. Not only was he brilliant and indefatigable, he was also caring, funny, and kind. He had an endless zest for life and learning. Alan was that bright light that will forever live on in the hearts of all those around the world whom he touched.

For those who wish to make a donation to ASH in memory of Dr. Alan Gewirtz, please visit

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