Kurt J. Isselbacher
July 18, 2019
With deep sadness, we share the passing of MBL Trustee Emeritus and MBL Society Member Emeritus Kurt Isselbacher, who died on July 18, 2019, at the age of 93. A longtime member of the MBL community, Dr. Isselbacher served on the Board of Trustees from 2004 to 2011 and was a member of the MBL Society from 1963 to 2012. The MBL flag, once repaired, will be lowered to half-mast in his memory.
Dr. Isselbacher was an exceptional physician, scientist, mentor, and leader, and the founding director of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center.
Funeral services will be at Temple Reyim on 1860 Washington St., Auburndale, Mass., at 9 am on Sunday, July 21. The family will sit Shiva on Monday, July 22, and Tuesday, July 23 from 5 pm to 9 pm in Dr. Isselbacher’s house on 20 Nobscot Road in Newton, Mass.
Below is a memorial notice from MGH Cancer Center that was relayed to the MBL by Dr. Isselbacher’s son, Dr. Eric Isselbacher.
It is with great sadness we write to inform you that Dr. Kurt Isselbacher, who led the MGH Gastrointestinal Unit from 1956 to 1987 and served as the first Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center from 1987 to 2003, died today, July 18, at MGH. He was 93 years old.
Born in Germany, Dr. Isselbacher emigrated to the U.S. just before the Holocaust. He attended Harvard College and graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1950. He completed his residency at MGH and in 1953 became a clinical and research fellow at the National Institutes of Health. While at the NIH, Dr. Isselbacher discovered the enzymatic defect causing the hereditary disorder galactosemia, which led to the development of a test that is now used in routine screening of newborns. In 1956, Dr. Isselbacher returned to MGH and HMS and at the age of 31 took on the leadership of the Gastrointestinal Unit. Over the next 30 years he led his division through an era of significant development and rapid growth. In 1987, he became the founding Director of the MGH Cancer Center and established new laboratory facilities in Charlestown Navy Yard for basic cancer research. Dr. Isselbacher retired from that role in 2003, but continued working and mentoring faculty for the remainder of his life.
Dr. Isselbacher was an extraordinary scientist and a compassionate physician. He was a thoughtful mentor and a strategic leader. His leadership in medicine was recognized nationally and internationally through many awards and honors including memberships in the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and receiving the Kober Medal of the Institute of Medicine.
Dr. Isselbacher resided in both Newton, Mass., and Woods Hole, Mass. He was married for 60 years to Rhoda Solin Isselbacher, who passed away in 2015. He is survived by three children, including Dr. Eric Isselbacher of the MGH Division of Cardiology, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral services for Dr. Isselbacher will be at Temple Reyim on 1860 Washington St., Auburndale, Mass., at 9 am on Sunday, July 21. The family will sit Shiva on Monday, July 22, and Tuesday, July 23 from 5 pm to 9 pm in Dr. Isselbacher’s house on 20 Nobscot Road in Newton, Mass.
Dr. Isselbacher will be greatly missed but his enduring legacy will be remembered by the many patients he so compassionately treated, and by the generations of physicians and scientists who were influenced by his seminal work in metabolism, gastrointestinal diseases and cancer, and who benefited greatly from his mentoring and his leadership. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this sad and difficult time.
Daniel A. Haber, MD, PhD
Director, MGH Cancer Center
Katrina Armstrong, MD
Physician in Chief, MGH