2012-07-10 16:55:17 UTC

Remembering Legendary Gastroenterologist Joseph B. Kirsner, MD, PhD

July 12, 2012

Renowned gastroenterologist Joseph B. Kirsner, MD, PhD, died from kidney failure at his home in Chicago on July 7. He was 102. A former president of the AGA, Kirsner was a pioneer in the understanding and treatment of IBD, and a role model for physicians learning how to care for patients.

Renowned gastroenterologist Joseph B. Kirsner, MD, PhD, the Louis Block distinguished service professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, died from kidney failure at his home in Chicago on July 7. He was 102.

A former president of the AGA, Kirsner was a pioneer in the understanding and treatment of IBD, and a role model for physicians learning how to care for patients. He was a leader in understanding the immunology and genetics of IBD and was one of the first to show the increased risk of colon cancer in patients with ulcerative colitis. He received our society’s highest honor, the Julius Friedenwald Medal, in 1975.

Reflecting his significant contributions to medicine and society, Dr. Kirsner’s death was reported by the Associated Press.

When AGA announced his passing on Twitter, gastroenterologists posted tributes, calling him a “legend in IBD” and noting that “he was a model of intelligence and dedication.”

“Dr. Kirsner was one of the most important and influential leaders within gastroenterology, the AGA and the broader American medical community. With his passing, we honor his career and legacy as a clinician, mentor, researcher and inspirational figure,” said Loren Laine, MD, AGAF, president, AGA Institute.

Every gastroenterologist should feel “at least slightly indebted to Joe Kirsner,” said Stephen Hanauer, MD, the Joseph B. Kirsner professor of medicine and section chief of gastroenterology at the University of Chicago Medicine.

AGA members can log onto a discussion board to post your reflections on the life and contributions of Dr. Kirsner.

Dr. Kirsner was committed to giving back to the field. He became a founding member of the AGA Research Foundation Legacy Society to support our mission of funding young researchers.

“As an influential member of the AGA for more than 70 years, Joe Kirsner helped shape AGA into the world’s premier GI society. Through his service and dedication, he was a role model and inspiration for generations of physicians. He will be missed, but his legacy continues and opens the path for future gastroenterologists,” noted Nicholas F. LaRusso, MD, chair of the AGA Research Foundation.

In 1961, Dr. Kirsner created the Gastro-Intestinal Research Foundation (GIRF), which still provides significant funds to support GI research at the University of Chicago.

A tribute to Dr. Kirsner on the GIRF website includes a poignant quote from the legendary doctor: “For me personally, reviewing my years, including some difficult times, the key has been the friendship of wonderful men and women who have believed, as I do, that we as individuals can make the world a better place; not only for our patients, but also for society. My principle mission became excellence in the care of the patient. The patient was the goal for everything that we did. If we did research, it would eventually evolve into a new therapeutic procedure, a better way of taking care of a particular problem and the patient would benefit.”

Kirsner is survived by his son, Robert Kirsner, PhD, professor of linguistics at the University of California at Los Angeles, and his wife Elaine; their son Daniel; daughter Rachel Kirsner Schneider and her husband, Steve; and four great grandchildren: Yaron, Gilad, Amira and Eden. His wife of 64 years, Minnie, died from complications associated with Parkinson’s disease and stroke in 1998.

A memorial service is being planned for later this summer. In lieu of flowers, contributions should be directed to the Gastro-Intestinal Research Foundation, 70 E. Lake St., Suite 1015, Chicago, IL 60601.

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