Gloria M. Petersen, PhD, a respected genetic epidemiologist and pancreatic cancer researcher, died January 8, 2023, at the age of 72.
Petersen earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in physical anthropology from the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of Oregon; and the University of California, Los Angeles, respectively.
Petersen was deputy director for population sciences at the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her research utilized genetic epidemiology methods to understand cancer etiology, with a focus on pancreatic cancer and other gastrointestinal cancers. Her work included research on the early detection of pancreatic cancer, genetic and nongenetic risk factors of the disease, and bioethical issues involved in informing patients with family histories of cancer. Additionally, Mayo Clinic noted her contributions to health disparities and community outreach research.
Among many professional affiliations, Petersen was a member of the Clinical Trials and Translational Research Advisory Committee of the National Cancer Institute, a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors for the National Human Genome Research Institute, and a consortia leader for the Pancreatic Cancer Genetic Epidemiology (PACGENE) Consortium.
Petersen joined the AACR in 2001. She was a member of Women in Cancer Research and served as chair of the Population Sciences Working Group, formerly known as the Molecular Epidemiology Working Group, from 2010 to 2011. She was a member of the editorial board of Cancer Prevention Research from 2008 to 2017. She served on numerous AACR committees, including the Annual Meeting Program Committee from 2010 to 2011 and the selection committees for several grants and awards.
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Gloria was the love of my life, my wife of over 50 years. She was remarkable for her scientific rigor, her integrity, her passion for the work she did, and her compassion for the patients and family members who participated in her studies. Two weeks before she was diagnosed with HCC, she wrote fifty personal notes to family members who had recently lost loved ones to pancreatic cancer. This was a regular part of what she considered the right and caring thing to do.
One day, some years ago, she told me, "I want to make pancreatic cancer a survivable disease through early detection." She came close to doing that.
That goal compelled her to keep working when others her age were retiring. Even in her last weeks she was putting in 10 hour days at the office and at home and traveling to speak and consult. Only when she received her diagnosis and was informed of the likely life she had left, did she cancel a meeting to Portland. While in the hospital, she still wanted me to bring in her "professional clothes" in case she had the energy to conduct Zoom calls.
The illness forced early retirement on her in December. After that she learned that she was going to be awarded funding for one of her proposals, When she came home to die, she worked many of her waking hours to ensure that she could name and have accepted her co-PI as the new PI. To ensure that happened and that her other work continued, she met at bedside with the person she wanted to be PI and met with members of her team. While the disease ravaged her, science gave her energy and enthusiasm and she worked with these colleagues joyfully. She also continued to send emails to the NCI program officer and address science questions with colleagues even after she did not have the strength to hold her iPad. Then, she would dictate her thoughts to me so that I could email them to her colleagues, team, and admins. AACR, the world, patients, and her husband have lost a most wonderful person. May all of AACR do its work with the same passion and commitment.
She was very active in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN). If you would like to see her principles and research focus continue to be applied to this disease, I urge you to contribute to PanCAN with this specific purpose noted. I will be making regular significant annual contributions to the Network for this purpose.
Sincerely and with grief in my heart,