Stanley Yachnin, MD, 1930-2004

Stanley Yachnin, MD, 1930-2004

September 1, 2004

Stanley Yachnin, M.D., professor emeritus and former section chief of hematology and oncology at the University of Chicago, died at his daughter's home in Hyde Park on Monday, Aug. 30, following a long battle with cancer -- a disease he spent much of his life studying. He was 74.

A well-known physician and scientist with an interest in diseases of the blood, Yachnin's major scientific accomplishments were spread over three decades and totally unrelated fields. In the 1960s, he did fundamental research on a rare red blood cell disorder called paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, which causes anemia, loss of blood into the urine during sleep, and blood clots that can be fatal. In the 1970s, he studied the biochemistry of lymphocyte transformation, how white blood cells learn to recognize, combat and remember an infection. In the 1980s, he concentrated on cholesterol metabolism, especially the oxidation of blood cell membranes and its role in disease.

At the University of Chicago, where he spent his entire career, Yachnin helped build what began as a small section of hematology/oncology into one of the world's leading clinical cancer research groups, recruiting many physicians and scientists to the section, where basic researchers worked alongside those focused on clinical trials and cancer care.

"Stanley Yachnin was an outstanding physician, researcher and teacher," said hematologist Joseph Baron, M.D., professor of medicine at the University. "He served as a mentor for a lot of his clinical and research colleagues, who knew and respected him for his critical thinking and careful analysis of scientific problems."

"He had a mind like Velcro," said Donald Sweet, M.D., an oncologist in Hinsdale, Ill., who trained under Yachnin. "He brought a phenomenal sense of enthusiasm to the lab that enabled him to understand problems and absorb the literature in a very short period. Plus, he was a technical wizard."

"He was a brilliant man, a clear thinker who set an example for many of the current faculty about how to analyze a problem, in the clinic or the laboratory," said Everett Vokes, M.D., the John E. Ultmann Professor of Medicine and current section chief of hematology/oncology at the University.

Born in New York City on June 28, 1930, Yachnin grew up in Brooklyn, NY, where he attended the Yeshiva of Flatbush and Midwood High School. He spent three years at Cornell University then went directly into medical school at New York University, where he graduated first in his class earning his M.D. in 1954.

He began his residency training in 1954. This was interrupted for two years of military service as a captain in the Army Medical Corps, spent on an army base in a small town outside Paris where he cared for ailing soldiers, learned the French language and cultivated a lifelong interest in wines and food. He returned to his medical training in 1958, completing his residency and a fellowship in hematology in 1961 at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, part of the Harvard system.

Yachnin next came to the University of Chicago as an assistant professor and remained for the rest of his career. He became section chief of hematology in 1966, a full professor in 1969, and chief of the combined section of hematology and oncology from 1972 to 1982. He retired in 1996.

He also served as a member and chairman of the university committee that approves faculty appointments and promotions, and from 1988 to 1996 directed the Pew Program, one of the earliest interdisciplinary graduate programs for students interested in completing both an M.D. and Ph.D.

The author of more than 100 research papers, he was an invited speaker or visiting professor at many institutions, including Rockefeller University in New York and the National Institute for Medical Research in London, England. His colleagues in hematology/oncology honored him earlier this year with a day-long symposium.

During his residency in Boston, Yachnin met and married his wife Irene. They had a son, Benson, while living in Boston. Their daughter, Catherine, was born after his arrival at the University of Chicago. Irene died in 1972. Yachnin met and married Kathleen Roseborough in 1974. They divorced in 1985.

"My father had an amazing intellect expressed in many areas of interest," Catherine recalled. "He was enormously well read, gregarious and a wonderful host. He would bring his peers and mine together for Sunday brunches at his house that lasted into the evening."

He is survived by his son, Benson Yachnin, of Brookfield, Ill.; his daughter, Catherine Braendel, of Chicago; and four grandchildren: Noah, Clea and William Braendel and Emma Yachnin.

Services for will be held at 11 a.m., Thurs., Sept. 2, at K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple at 1100 East Hyde Park Blvd,, followed by the burial at Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum at 5800 N. Ravenswood. The family will receive visitors at the home of Catherine Braendel, 5008 S. Greenwood, on Thursday afternoon.