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Kurt J. Isselbacher

In Memoriam: Kurt J. Isselbacher

(09/12/1925 - 07/18/2019)Member since 1990

Kurt J. Isselbacher, MD, a renowned gastroenterologist and cancer center director, died July 18, 2019, at age 93.

Isselbacher was born in Wirges, Germany, Sept. 12, 1925. His family fled Germany after Nazis attacked Isselbacher, his home, and family members. They settled in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Isselbacher earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and his medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He served with the U.S. Public Health Service and conducted research at the National Institutes of Health.

At age 31, Isselbacher was appointed chief of gastroenterology at Massachusetts General Hospital, a position he held for more than 30 years. He was later appointed the Mallinckrodt distinguished professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. In the late 1980s, he became director of the hospital’s newly established cancer center.

Isselbacher published more than 400 papers over the course of his career. His work helped identify the enzymatic defect responsible for galactosemia, a disorder that affects the ability to properly metabolize sugar. He was also instrumental in research on mutations in the BRCA1 gene in the study of hereditary breast cancer.

He served on the editorial boards ofJournal of Clinical InvestigationandGastroenterologyand was a consulting editor ofMedicine. Isselbacher was also an editor of “Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine,” a respected and widely used internal medicine text.

The recipient of numerous honors, Isselbacher was president of the American Gastroenterological Association, the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease, and the Association of American Physicians, which awarded him the Kober Medal. He also was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He became a member of the AACR in 1990, and transferred to Emeritus membership in 2015.